Putois | The Problem Is Not a Problem Anymore (Cerebral Cliff)

cd_putois.jpgThis whole album seems to be about that certain kind of day, with Mason recalling people and events, trying to feel a connection to life when it’s clearly difficult.







Putois is basically the one-man acoustic project of Chicago’s Bob Mason, and this lo-fi bedroom effort is the sort of thing that could have been boring if Mason didn’t have a pretty solid creative aesthetic working in his favor. But fortunately, he does. For one thing, Mason has the unique gift of being able to conjure a mood of aching nostalgia, just from the simplicity of his songs and the sorrowful bent to his voice. For another thing, Mason’s recorded most of the 12 songs on The Problem Is Not a Problem Anymore with an unusual amount of echo on the vocals, giving the impression that you’re hearing the tunes through a kind of fog of memory, or the state of detachment that comes years after a heartbreak, even though you can very much brood about it still if it’s a certain kind of day.

{mospagebreak} "Things have gotten so dark/ Feels like I’m losing my spark," he sings on the Dylanesque "Another Shade of Blue," which even has a touch of Zimmy-style harmonica to complete the comparison. This is definitely a melancholy record, but in that sincere, empathetic way you feel grateful for when it soundtracks your own mood. "Nothing ever seems to last" isn’t lyrically unique, but it’s right on the mark emotionally here when Mason sings it in the pretty pop tune "Something Wrong With Steven," and follows it with some sweetly wistful "bah bah’s."

And it’s some sort of small miracle that he can employ such rudimentary guitar strumming in a tune such as "Today’s Sun," but then reel you right in with a verse like "And I walked down the street today/ I saw all the little kids playing around and laughing and smiling/ And I thought to myself/ Maybe it’s not that bad." Making the most of simple elements is a gift all great songwriters seem to have, and for all his apparent limitations, Mason has that gift. He clearly feels things very deeply, and with his basic chord progressions and open-hearted songs, Mason manages to take you pretty far up his emotional trail.

And there is some variety here, from the weird stream-of-consciousness musings of "CTA" to the ambient piano instrumental "The Lonely Traveler." But mostly what you’re left with upon hearing this album is a kind of trance-like connection to Mason’s brand of straight-up melancholy. Repeated phrases like "catching shadow, catching shadow" (from the title track) and the lyric "It’s in your heart," sung over and over again in "Heart," are frequently all it takes to get the gist of Mason’s earnest, universal sentiments. B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Daniel Johnston when the meds are working, Guided by Voices, wallowing in memories

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