What does Ari Mason sound like?
If Elizabeth Fraser made synthpop for the alternative crowd.0
The review Ari Mason – Prodrome
Ari Mason snuck in her new album ‘Prodrome’ right in the last weeks of 2022 and as a result it may have gone unnoticed by many music fans. ‘Prodrome’ is one of those albums that does eclectic pop to perfection. There are big beats, massive synths, wild vocals and melodies and song structures that don’t follow the usual pop fair. Ari Mason is a musician that has been on my radar for a few years and this album single-handedly forced me to check out her entire catalogue.
It’s that good.
‘Doing Crimes’ is a dangerously sublime dance anthem for the underground. Mixing mystical and curious note progressions into huge synth arpeggios and angry angel vocals – it’s passionate and approachable. It reminds me heavily of the 90’s dance-pop movement when artists got bold and mixed in alternative weirdness with it. Mixing art with hooks is great and Ari Mason’s viola playing gives her synths and vocal harmonies a certain symphonic edge. That 90’s dance-pop vibe is in full effect as the album progresses. ‘Borrowing Time’ is a mixture of early Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Towa Tei and alt-Kyle Minogue yet it’s none of them either. ‘Do You Believe In the Existence of Extraterrestrials?’ mixes that dance pop vibe with dark wave elements. The quickfire bassline props up retro synths ala N-Trance and some operatic Elizabeth Fraser-esque vocals. It is the retro-future electronica I never knew I wanted.
‘Ambrosia’ takes things slower and leans into a heavenly slice of lush electric guitar strums from the indie pop world, dance piano and warm syrupy vocals. Think Mandalay but more upbeat and you are in the right spot. ‘I Hate It’ is a dance anthem for the knackered. Ari Mason opens up the track with the lyric “Is everybody else as tired as me?” as she sings about wanting to break out of the daily grind. I don’t think I’ve actively championed a song on Higher Plain Music that uses 90’s hand claps and cheesy synth hits outside of Eurovision before… but here we are. When paired with angry lyrics and an unusual delivery, it hits totally differently.
Not everything goes straight for the hedonistic jugular though. ‘Bad Things Happen When I Leave My Home’ leans into acoustic percussion and harp as its backbone. The ethereal vocal shrouds showcase Ari Mason’s amazing vocal range as she soars up the octaves and the whole song feels like a mystical heist. ‘Mea Culpa’ is a sublime ethereal pop piece. With resonant harp plucks and zither-like keys hiding underneath the acoustic percussion, Ari’s vocal harmonies are like an alternative opera. The track is stunningly beautiful and uplifting as she sings “I won’t make myself small for you” before exploding into a chorus of Ari’s. The album then closes with the jazzy bossa-nova-tinged closer ‘I’ll Be Nice (When I’m Dead)’. Bringing a Latino flavour before the album ends, it bridges the ethereal second half with the dancier first half. Yet in doing so, it creates its own mini subgenre.
As eclectic as it is catchy, Ari Mason’s ‘Prodrome’ is sensational. My only minor critique is that the album has a distinct lack of a bottom end at times. Instead, it focuses on the ethereal vocal upper frequencies and for an album with so many bops, I’d have liked the bass to push through a little more. It adds to the unique style of ‘Prodrome’ though. If it is not Ari’s superb vocal range and delivery, it’s the dangerous fairy overtones the songs portray. If you need a dance whilst spitting mysterious lyrics laced with venom, Ari Mason has you covered.
Recommended track: Doing Crimes
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