In music, even with the numerous genres, sub-genres and collaborations present, we journalists still come across those releases which do not seem to fit with any one category. Take, for example, St. Anger by Metallica, where it could be argued all day long that it was either alternative, garage rock, sludge rock or just plain sludge. (Maybe post-alt.-garage-sludge? Yes?) As it stands, things like this become a matter of perspective, and so after five days of haggling through the internet — no applause necessary — I bring you the gem by King Biscuit Time, appropriately titled, No Style.
For those who are huge fans of films like High Fidelity, this particular act may just become part of your obscure pop rock repertoire as King Biscuit Time is indeed the brainchild of The Beta Band’s one and only Steve Mason. While The Beta Band has achieved notoriety between cult followers of underground experimental music and those who took Nick Hornby and John Cusack’s words as gospel, Steve Mason decided around 1998 to make some solo work known. Under the moniker King Biscuit Time, Mason released only one full-length album (2006’s Black Gold) before calling his act, Black Affair. However, he also released two EPs with Biscuit, with No Style being the most indicative of Mason’s adaptive musical aptitude.
While some would claim that experimentation on any album outside of The Beta Band would not really be too far from expected, No Style is rare in that it holds a charm that Mason’s more popular outfit did not really acquire. Discovering this EP was purely accidental, and listening to it was an experience akin to a young child displaying a work of art built from Elmer’s glue and elbow macaroni: One sees it at face value as an incoherent jumble of parts with no rhyme beyond its ingredients and no reason beyond existing, though others marvel at the simplicity and the thought put into it. No Style comes off as what happens when you let your inner-whatever loose in the home studio to create a work of purely instinctual art, regardless of professional opinion.
We know what to expect from The Beta Band, a small but notable body of work for those with acquired taste for pop and eclectic sensibilities. (Did someone say Harvey Danger?) But as Steve Mason dives off on his own, the more obvious techniques of his former group feel stripped down to bare bones and are tucked away into a niche. The bunk and brilliance with this is that — much like a child’s artwork — one could call it genius and another call it completely random. Tracks like “I Walk The Earth” adhere to pop in a fashion reminiscent of Peter Gabriel while the closer “Eye o’ the Dug” feels more like early Beatles mixed with blues guitar. Add this to Kid A-era musings like “Untitled” and “Little White” and you get the feeling that Mason has essentially drawn from every notable British pop influence while putting his own homemade spin on it and throwing together eight well-rounded original songs.
To some, this might feel a bit like sticking with what works and not thinking outside the box at all; however, to others like myself, No Style represents the static laden, free thinking independence seen in groups like Primitive Radio Gods or early Beck. Cross this very process with Mason’s somber vocals and you basically end up with an EP that draws comparisons to a homeless leper singing beautiful opera for no apparent reason other than to spread his music to the passerby. Another very unique track here is titled “I Love You”, and if the subtlety of the music doesn’t get your attention then the simple and direct lyrics might:
Don’t try to push me down my love,
a hand on the back is mine from above.
Is it love that holds us down?
You could be the one to see me turn around.
Again, we see bits of the now defunct seven year itch that was The Beta Band, but the difference between The Beta Band material and Steve Mason material is widened by Mason’s habit of just letting things flow on their own terms. Every song present on No Style could be put aside as a single entity or can provide an eight piece unit every bit as solid as an octahedron, despite the album seeming long for an EP yet short for an LP. The true judgment of this crystallized Beta Band runoff is in the eyes of the beholder indeed, but flaws of a stone only certify it as that much more unique (whether those quirks are appealing or undesirable). In this case, the facets sparkle good and strange.