Negative Gain Productions
The addition of LA chanteuse Ari Mason to the Negative Gain family seems like a logical enough fit on the surface. Her up-front melodies and plainly stated personal lyrics feel spiritually related to the neon-drenched journey of the soul Forrest Carney has been trekking out (as witnessed by Carney’s mix of Mason’s lead single), and NGP’s shown itself to have a fantastic ear for smoother sounds (see their signing of Cygnets) despite having roots in far crunchier climes. But beneath those initial similarities, Mason shows herself to have a preternatural sense of her music’s own direction, as demonstrated by the controlled blend of synthpop and darkwave she offers on her excellent second record.
Mason’s debut, Neuropathy, seems to have been scrubbed from the net to a degree that’s nothing short of impressive these days, but from what I’ve been able to track down Creatures doesn’t skew too far from it in terms of core elements. Light synthpop leads skip across sparse rhythms while Mason’s vocals hold sway, often lurking low and impassive but leaping up for brief expressive flashes. Acts ranging from Depeche Mode to The Weeknd to The XX have found pop strength in offsetting light leads against far larger beats, and Mason executes that effect well here with the pachinko-like melody of “Beasts Tonight” riding a thudding nod. But even when things are more balanced there’s a stripped down efficiency to Creatures. “Heaven’s Gate” is an inch away from being a full-fledged Din [A] Tod darkwave stormer, but a lid is kept on the track, ratcheting up tension.
The minimal instrumentation, as artful as it is, puts a big spotlight on Mason’s vocals. She’s understated, often using a recitative style, but the steady doling out of her pleadings and intimations can have a chilling effect. Even when she’s dishing on club kid affairs on “Beasts Tonight”, her haunting “Can’t find the door, invite me in” refrain connotes a looming ghost or vampire. Most of Creatures sticks to more universal themes: lust, betrayal, longing. All good stuff if traded in honestly, and Mason hits the mark consistently, with wistful and reflective hints in an otherwise restrained presentation. It’s here that she shows a presence which goes far beyond the ostensible genres she’s working in. Hell, penultimate slowburn “Sleep Still” sounds more like Donna Lewis or Mazzy Star than any of the new dark lights of LA, and Mason makes it work.
For all of its savvy in terms of melody and atmosphere, Creatures is ultimately an album which depends upon Mason’s character and charisma as a vocalist, and it’s a big success on those terms. Guided by the glamorous dreaminess of darkwave, the economy of solid synthpop, and most importantly an assured vocal direction, Creatures very politely but forcefully demands attention.