Albums, Music, The Revue — April 23, 2018 at 5:10 am

mastersystem – ‘Dance Music’ (album review)

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Fans of Frightened Rabbit, Editors, and Minor Victories know that these great UK bands are more associated with the new wave of indie rock. Their approaches are more melodic in their orientation – or in the case of Minor Victories more shoegaze-y. In a live setting, however, they’ll occasionally unfurl an unexpected guitar solo or menacing riff. A mood-swaying gig, consequently, is suddenly transformed into a blistering rock concert. This latter approach is what is heard on Dance Music, the debut album of mastersystem, which consists of Frightened Rabbit brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison and fellow sibling Justin Lockey of Editors and James Lockey of Minor Victories. They are indeed a super-group – or more accurately a super-sibling group.

Although the foursome could have leaned heavily on what they do best, they’ve opted to throw away their respective rule books, rewind the clocks, and usher the return of ’80s and ’90s college and garage-rock. Album opener “Proper Home” leaves no doubt that Dance Music is a straight-up rock album. A feverish tone rings throughout the track. Scott’s unmistakable vocals are emotional and desperate while the Lockeys engage in an awesome guitar duel. Hovering in the background is Grant, who pounds on his kit to give the track an added urgency. As much as the sound has changed, one thing has not – Scott’s introspective and moving songwriting. As the instruments cascade into one mind-blowing epic, the older Hutchison recounts the inner struggle to find stability and security.

The stormy fervor of “Notes on a Life Not Quite Lived” is the closest thing to a Frightened Rabbit track on the record. Beneath this fiery vehicle’s bonnet growls a full-throttle engine of reverb-heavy dueling guitars and propulsive percussion. Scott’s vocals are restrained at first, but they kick into another gear as he sings of “lessons learned”, being “lost in a deep abyss”, and finding “hope in hopelessness”. The song is ’90s alt-rock angst unleashed, but told in a fashion relevant to the mass confusion of the present.

mastersystem go full bore The Pogues with a heavy dose of A Place To Bury Strangers on the awesome “The Enlightenment”. Assertive, and raucous, the track is perfect for small basement bars where the patrons can mosh, jump, shake, and bang their heads without abandon. Grant’s militaristic drumming leads the way, creating the path for the cavalry that is the Lockeys raging guitars. Scott’s lyrics poignantly tackle his own existence and purpose on this planet. How he has been able to see the light through the darkness. A similar, introspective tone percolates on “Must Try Harder”, which wails with the ferocity of Smashing Pumpkins in their prime.

A moment of brief reprieve occurs on the pulsating and politically-driven “Teething”, which captures the growth of a man, a nation, and a people. Things don’t stay quite for long, though, as the final third turns into a stunning burner. A similar, more melodic approach is adopted on the grungy “Bird is Bored of Flying”, which highlights Scott’s philosophical songwriting style. As his band mates quietly then suddenly rage fire and brimstone, he smartly states, “we all want fire until it starts to burn”, to indicate how wealth and consumption are now the values by which human worth is measured. At what point do we say enough is enough?

The album’s peak, though, occurs on “Old Team”, which is a song for the underdog and all of us still seeking to “get it right”. The Hutchisons’ trademark fervor is brilliantly meshed with the signature Lockey scorching depth, resulting in an epic anthem. It’s a fist-pounding, tear-down-the-walls number meant for racing through the streets and yelling out “nobody fuck with me”. These words seem apropos for the super-sibling group, who on their first record have gone against music trends and unleash a sonic fury reminiscent of the great alternative-rock bands of the past. An LP that is among the very best rock outputs of the year and one that would have rivaled the very best of the ’90s.

Dance Music is out April 6th via Physical Education Recordings. Purchase and streaming links are here. Here’s hoping mastersystem is not a one-off project like so many super groups.

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