Josh Mason: Hellified Irie
FET Press

If the name Josh Mason sounds familiar, it might have as much to do with his role as grand overseer of the now-retired Sunshine Ltd. imprint as with the solo recordings he's released. In contrast to the early 2015 cassette outing Alone In The Kingdom (issued on Sunshine Ltd.), Hellified Irie comes to us via FET Press as an elaborate art book-and-digital download set. That's not the only thing that differentiates the two projects: whereas the earlier release “presents a lonely and isolated take on modern relationships” (Mason's words), the new one is (Mason again) “a ‘surf' record both in tone and concept.”

In an inspired move, the Florida-based guitarist, composer, and sound designer pays homage to The Ventures and Smile-era Beach Boys in the material's guitar-centric focus and compositional approach. The release features a seventy-page book of black-and-white images and personal photos accompanied by musings on home, family, and the recording itself; each book comes with a digital download of the thirty-eight-minute album and is numbered and signed by Mason.

Many thematic details come into play during the opening seconds of “Century Ambulance,” the surf concept, first of all, in the crashing waves with which it begins plus the idea of sudden change that's intimated by the radio flicker that briefly follows. The plaintive, tremolo-laden guitar playing and becalmed dronescape that subsequently surface say much about the general musical character of the recording, especially the way the material's distortion suggests the refraction that occurs when distant memories undergo nostalgic resurrection.

Electric and acoustic guitar playing stand out from the muted backdrops of “Florida Light & Power II” and “Warp Thing,” whereas “Wavewalker” sees the guitar textures seamlessly blended into a gently pulsing ambient mass. With seagulls and seaside sounds appearing plentifully beside sun-dappled guitar musings,“Timecode Beach” convincingly conjures the image of a long-ago family trip to the beach, while tinkling wind chimes, the creak of a porch chair, and laid-back acoustic picking imbue the ten-minute meditation “Continued on Chart 11484” with a pastoral charm. Mason's guitar-driven soundscaping might admittedly be marked by restraint and reservation, but it's hardly wallpaper music.

September 2015