|Album Review: Daniella Mason – Technicolour|
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Nashville is such a bizarre music scene sometimes. When you don’t pursue the typical country lane, it’s possible for pop artists get signed to major labels, without even making a ripple here locally. Daniella Mason fits this profile perfectly, because when Warner publicist Ceri Roberts shot me “Technicolour” to my inbox, I was shocked to say, “Wait a second. I’ve seen this girl before.”
Granted, I’ve not been introduced to Daniella Mason, but we live in the same neighborhood. East Nashville has recently been a hotbed for new pop, rock and alternative acts like Cherub, COIN, Moon Taxi, Colony House, Natalie Prass, Chelsea Lankes, Bully, Diarrhea Planet (why that name fellas?), and others.
So now I suppose we just add Daniella Mason to the list of “East Nashville artists you’ll probably see at Three Crow or Red Door and not really even realize they’re professional musicians”. This is an artsy neighborhood, and Daniella Mason made an artsy EP that sounds like East Nashville — basically, a manic-pixie-hipster film that happens to be a real place.
The EP opens with the title track, “Technicolour” – which is strangely my least favorite track on the entire EP. It features Daniella Mason on the lightly used Toyota Camry of pop instrumentals. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, but it’s just so objectively boring, even for an upbeat dance tune. I don’t like the staccato singing from Mason, at all. It sounds totally unnatural for her. My guess is someone already has printed and mastered stems for this song, and it was (I hope) WBR’s plan all along to offer this as a dance remix canvas as bait for Mason fans. This song just doesn’t make sense within the context of the rest of the EP — it sounds like a bouncy, vocal-altered remix of a much more downtempo song.
“Planet” moves in smoothly on the second track, and this seems like where Mason is really the most comfortable – in a restrained, more minimal, less bouncy song. Where “Technicolour” did an excellent job of overshadowing Mason’s vocals, “Planet” is easier to follow, and really allows Mason’s lyrics to shine. Granular details here are what really matter: The vocal doubling with just a little more reverb than I expected give the delicate way her voice floats over the second verse a ton of room to shine. Then the way her voice runs into the pre-chorus and chorus is just… perfection. If you can only listen to one song on the EP, this is the one you should check out.
Transitioning into the third track is “Distant Lover” — which, holy squeaky clean pop, Batman! If you would have told me this was a Carly Rae Jepsen song, I would have believed you. Sonically, it’s pop-perfect, polished, and meticulously constructed. If you love cheesy pop tunes the way I do, this is a fantastic song. If you take yourself too seriously and this song “isn’t analog enough” – then you’re an elitist and no one likes you anyway. Also, that “tofu scramble” you sprang on me like it was cool? Not cool, dude. Those aren’t eggs.
“Shade of You” reminds me of Katy Perry’s production on “Prism” – which is to say, it feels dated, which is bad… because this is a brand new song. This is the pop sound that was really taking hold in 2013, but faded as quickly as it started. It was inspired by those sweeping Swedish house artists who loved stabby, quick synths, and immediately took on a quality that made people think about “generic EDM”.
The EP ends with “All I Want”, a slow building, dragged out, and plodding anti-pop, “wavy” song. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from the other more upbeat cuts on this EP, and well… it doesn’t work. You know when you’re listening to a song, and you just start feeling bored? That’s this song. It bookended “Technicolour” rather nicely, because like the first song, I wanted to just skip it.
So, where does this land Daniella Mason? This is an EP with solid songwriting, a great singer, and production that just doesn’t make sense. The thing that bothers me so much about the production is how over-produced some of the tracks sound. “Shade of You” and “Technicolour” sound like songs that a plugger walked into the A&R office with, and just said, “I don’t care who tracks this song.” Yes, it’s a matter of personal taste, but “Shade of You” is a truly well-written song with production that overshadows the songwriting. (The little “oooh ohhh ohhhhh” backing is just too much. Who made that call? Did the song really need that?)
Going into the EP, I really wanted to like it, mostly because I want to see East Nashville artists do well – and there are two solid songs here, with “Planet” being unique, fun, and the perfect sound for Mason. “Distant Lover” is a serviceable pop tune that will soon find a home on my more upbeat female pop playlists, and it’s certainly at home with her Nashville (now LA) contemporaries like Chelsea Lankes.
With all that said, this EP sounds like too many political footballs were kicked through the Warner Brothers offices about what kind of sound this EP needed. I know, because I’ve done the major label thing, and listened as A&R’s bickered back and forth, having dick measuring contests about who just knew what a certain artist should sound like.
The culmination of this label bickering is (probably) what we ended up with here: It lacked the punch and rock-distortion of Lankes, and none of the smooth jazz and R&B/rock infusions of Jepsen. It’s the ultimate compromise EP, because I could have done five tracks that sound like either “Planet” and “Distant Lovers” – but was given three songs that sound like cut-rate Katy Perry. Mason can clearly shine when given the right structure around her voice and songwriting, but the indecision on what this EP should be sunk what could have been incredible.
I’m giving it a 4/10. 40% of this EP was great, and 60% was borderline unlistenable.