Album review: Max Gowan – Mass Transit
A year after his exceptional and mature debut, Big People, Max Gowan has followed up with an album that is deeper, more thoughtful and both musically and thematically more considered. While his predominantly acoustic style informed most of Big People, and allowed his songwriting and compositional acumen to take centre stage, Mass Transit is largely more electric, and given he recorded the album on his own once again, his instrumental skills are given more room to shine. Ultimately, the largest point of difference between his two albums could be that Mass Transit sounds far more like a band, rather than a solo album. Indeed, he’s now taking a band to play these songs with him.
Mass Transit begins with “Sun Sleep”, an early highlight, and a perfect cipher for the musical progress he has made since Big People. It is a beautiful early morning, dazed while we follow a commute, with a beginning and end that seem to arrive and depart in the midst of a moment that we are slowly being caught up on.
Gowan has said that the album is about his move to a more urban setting for college from his home town of Raleigh, North Carolina, and the confusing process of growing up and becoming an adult. The album reflects this sonically, and “Sun Sleep” is one of the best examples of ‘show, not tell’ on the album.
Despite the lack of an acoustic presence on much of the album, Gowan uses these moments to muse and ponder, rather than use the new format to make as much noise as possible. The title track is a similar example, an instrumental that simply and cleanly explores the album’s concept in a pretty and moving manner.
Not to say that there aren’t moments of pop-fuelled triumph. “Mr. Turnaround” might sound like a more traditional Max Gowan song, though upon repeated listens it reveals the same sensibilities that informed Big People, now honed as sharp as you could imagine. The swirling electric guitars and arrangement work into a chorus that speaks for the song and itself in a chillingly perfect manner: “Has it ever you? Cos I know it’s been hitting me. Has it ever hit you, we’re not meant to be this free?”.
Within the space of a year, Max Gowan has delivered two exceedingly clever and wonderful albums; of the two, Mass Transit is the more exciting, if only because its progression and intelligent composition and writing speak to a young artist with an incredibly bright future. On “Hologram” he asks: “Could you come around, pull me outta this chair and make me care?”. On Mass Transit, he makes it sound easy.
You can grab a copy of Mass Transit (and name your own price) over at Bandcamp.
Review by Adrian Pedić.