Josh Mason is about as good as it gets these days when it comes to ambient/drone/tape music. Through his solo and collaborative recordings, not to mention the things he’s doing with his fantastic Sunshine Ltd. label, there is a common thread always pulling the listener back into the center. The Symbiont proves to be Mason’s masterwork to date (following-up his magical Timecode Beach (that I released, mind you) which previously held the title… in my head, anyway). It’s an exercise in patience and contemplation. Mason describes the album as a “musing on anxiety, nerves and an artistically centered life.” It also draws inspiration from two Quiroga short stories, but it’s those three phrases… anxiety, nerves, and an artistically centered life… that really hit home for me. This is an album that demands quiet attention, vinyl-only for a reason. I have listened to The Symbiont at least a dozen times since it arrived last month, scribbling notes as I went, letting Mason’s subtly brilliant tonal shifts envelop me. These are some of those scribbles, thoughts that felt most important:
The Symbiont is a piece of music that searches, not in quick desperation but through longing and deliberate distraction, for a way forward that will satiate the desire for ‘an artistically centered life’ while clawing out existence in a world that does not hold such hopes, such wants as having any value. The emotions come to a head in the last half of the b-side, “Dying in a Canoe,” coalescing to the point where the conflict begins to fracture the psyche. But Mason, being as skillful as he is, brings it an abrupt, full-stop. The last portion of the piece floats along, in space or in low-lying rivers, leaving the listener to sort it out for him or herself within the static.
Mason plays with the idea of anxiety in unexpected ways. There’s nothing frenetic here, everything is slow, careful. But that’s the kind of anxiety I tend to experience. It’s not a panic attack, it’s not my heart suddenly racing, launching itself off some terrifying mental cliff. For me it’s that slow lurch, the constant build-up like bringing water slowly to a boil so the frog won’t jump away… I’m never immediately aware of the tension something is causing me, of the nerves meticulously being frayed. The Symbiont works through those paces, using faint distractions to keep the mind’s eye at bay. Eventually, as always, I’ll find myself in too deep, overcome by the butterflies, searching for any limb to grasp, any place to take a few deep, methodical breaths. I find comfort in calculated movements, in the careful, considered pauses.
In the end, there’s no point in being all things to all people, in fretting over any notions of outside perception. Find a path that works, keep the important memories and faces close and tune out ancillary voices that simply don’t matter. Even if the bubble breaks, it’s always been the build-up, the process that matter most. Destinations are overrated, anyway – there’s more to be found in the journey. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, most decisions aren’t forever anyway.
Buy the LP HERE