Title: Freedom Of Choice
Artist: Mastermind XS
Release Date: 2014 August
Genre: Dub / Reggae / Rock
License: CC BY-NC-ND
Label: Libre Comme Lair
Some artists aren’t content with limiting themselves. Mastermind XS has the freedom of choice and the skill to decide where they want to go with their music. But, sometimes there is more to having such freedom that needs to be considered, such as what limits should be applied.
Mastermind XS has the Freedom Of Choice
The duo of Daniel Stephan and Heiko Petry have been together for over three years, and Freedom of Choice is their third release and their second full-length recording (their first release was an extended play recording). Their strength is in writing reggae, drum-n-bass and dub styled music with socially conscious lyrics.
If you haven’t heard this duo before, the first four tracks on this release will make for some very pleasant listening. The subjects ranging from the type of person one should aspire to be, to calling out politicians for their inaction or the actions that do not serve to further the community and society.
But things start taking a bit of a turn with the track ‘Drifting’. What starts out as a beat-style piece, with a tiny hint of dubstep takes a really strange turn part way through when it breaks into a more hard rock style song. It’s at this point that it becomes painfully obvious that Heiko is straining the limit of his vocal abilities, trying to sing the line “Can you find your way…” over the top of the guitar heavy riffs. But once this spell is broken, the rest of the chanting / toasting style vocals on this song quickly fall apart from sloppy tonality and off-key sequences.
If this were the worst that this release had to offer, it would get a higher rating. I easily get that musicians want to stretch themselves, and sometimes an experiment or two need to make it to release in order to get some feeling for what works and what doesn’t work. But this release gets bad enough that I have to wonder if there was no one around Daniel and Heiko to pull them back and make them hear the issues.
The biggest example of this comes in the form of a piece that would be a light pop-reggae in other groups hands: ‘Run Away’. Musically the song is sound and very well produced. However Heiko as a toaster doesn’t really have the vocal style to pull off even the simple melody of this song. It’s honestly bad enough that when I first listened to it I started to physically cringe.
Now, if I set aside Heiko’s vocals, I have to say that some of the other tracks were quite interesting. For example, ‘The lost smile’ has a very driving bass and drum line, that sounds more like it comes from a more progressive rock group, but with some interesting choices in instrumentation — such as the accordion line. ‘Empty Head’ starts with a nice jazz / rock style guitar lines, which alternate with a more reggae style verse section that has that dubstep style throbbing line to it. It’s an odd combination of styles that I think would have worked better with the throbbing bass line.
There is some simple advice I would offer to Mastermind XS: find a vocalist. Heiko is great for the chant / rap / toasting style pieces, however when it comes to the more melodic vocals he doesn’t have the chops for them. Maybe bring in some guest vocalists for these pieces? I liked the mix of styles on this release, but I missed some of the more Asian and middle eastern influences that were found on Reset All Systems. Also, sometimes the throbbing dubstep-style bass lines aren’t needed — like on ‘Empty Head’.
I give Daniel and Heiko a lot of credit for exploring a lot of different ideas musically on this release. I don’t know how well it goes over with audiences that are expecting a more reggae / dub style experience, but I think there is definitely room for exploring these ideas. Freedom of choice means you can explore, but there is also something to be said for knowing when you have stretched your abilities too far.