Mason Reed falls prey to his own pretension

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The most on-target aspect of hippie-blues rocker Mason Reed’s latest EP, You Can’t Come Back From Heaven, is the CD packaging. The cover features a slightly dazed Reed looking resolutely through his aviators and out the windshield of a blurry automobile. Sun-diluted photographs of roadsides reminiscent of Cool Hand Luke jumble together on the inside jacket. A string of beads with a feather hangs in front of a car window on the backside track listing. Overall, it’s a neatly packaged collection of overused pastiches on bohemian life, which makes it such an excellent representation of the album.

From the very start of You Can’t Come Back From Heaven, something just feels off. There’s a genuine attempt at profound bluesy pondering throughout the EP, but it’s offset by a true lack of serious sound that hinders the whole thing.

The most obvious culprit for this lack of seriousness is Reed’s almost novel approach to vocals. His overly abrasive voice, best exemplified when he sings “This could be your life” on the final track, “Six Shallow Women,” makes the whole EP feel almost like a caricature of Willie Nelson.

Just like his voice, the instruments of Reed’s work are laughably ruffian. The guitar tries so hard to be a tough guy on songs like “Poor Old Man” that it has no sense of shame or sensibility. When it does manage to control itself in a gentle fashion, the guitar contrasts starkly with Reed’s ever-scratching vocals.

The drums bang on practically the same riff incessantly throughout the album, pausing only briefly to take a slowly reflecting and smooth tone midway through on “Only Gonna Break Your Heart,” a good song ruined by foolish lyrics.

No matter the positives on some songs, there’s always some quality that compromises the total package. When Reed’s growling voice finally fits in with the sound, some other quality will swoop down and distract. When the drums manage to perform a subtle riff, it will be all for naught because of Reed’s aforementioned ridiculous vocals.

Reed’s music is ironic, really. He sings in constant defiance of conformity, but in the end he ends up trying so hard to be a rebel that his music can be neatly packaged and bundled with the rest of the music that sounds exactly like his. On the opener, “I Don’t Love Nobody,” Reed sings almost desperately that he truly doesn’t love anything but the road. He sounds as if he’s hopelessly trying to convince the listener that he really is the hardened rough man he says he is.

You Can’t Come Back From Heaven has such a predictable sound that listening to it feels almost like hearing the sound of stereotype. People have been replicating the biker vibe for long enough in music that the genre sounds as old and dried out as the road kill that the artists so constantly pass over on their genre, going nowhere.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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