The side project is a tricky beast to tame. How far outside your comfort zone do you explore? What topics do you still have to cover? For Frightened Rabbit front man Scott Hutchison and his drumming brother Grant, alongside Editors guitarist Justin Lockey and his Out Lines bassist brother Jason; new band Mastersystem (dare we call it a super group?) is a chance to address the restlessness and anxiety unique to hitting your thirties.
Dance Music opens with ‘Proper Home’, a pulsating and raucous track which makes a big statement. This band is loud, this band is fuzzy, and this band is brilliant. The lyrical style and vocal delivery is not dissimilar to recent Frightened Rabbit releases, but with added urgency.
Lead single ‘Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived’ is the most Frightened Rabbit-esque song on the album. You would be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a track from Pedestrian Verse up until the 46th second before a euphoric chorus erupts from who knows where. I actually enjoy that touch point though. It acts as a reminder that the quartet haven’t thrown caution to the wind: they know their strengths and can play to them.
Straying further from their comfort zone, the band loosen up and channel some punk vibes on ‘The Enlightenment’. The guitar solo in particular is an unleashing of pent up energy accompanied by pounding, relentless drums.
‘Old Team’ has a very nostalgic feel to it, a wistful and begrudging glance at choices where you’re not sure if you made the right decision. The central axis of the song is the contrast in tempo between the halftime middle eight and the rest of the track. The break acts as just that – a welcome respite from the the barrage of noise.
Perhaps my favourite track on Dance Music is ‘Must Try Harder’, which is going to be an instant live classic. It’s got the catchy chorus hook (“Brace! Brace! I must try harder in every way”) accompanied by a bouncing rhythm that will be impossible to resist jumping along to. There’s a stripped back middle eight, giving the mosh pit an opportunity to open up. A drum fill to kick things off again, and a wild guitar solo to round things off. Perfection.
The album closes with ‘Bird Is Bored Of Flying’, which combines the now familiar gnarly guitars with a more sedate drum tempo. It’s a nice little experiment within an experiment, especially given the six minute running time in an album full of two hundred second long songs. There’s more space for each member of Mastersystem to relax and play around with their instrument. But it doesn’t drag on, when the song finishes you are left wanting more. That for me is the best way to finish an album.
At the end of the day, Dance Music is just great fun to listen to. The two sets of brothers have cast aside their musical rules and have one mission. Take things back to basics. Scale down the complexity of the instrumentation. And turn up the volume. I love it.
Sounds Like… Frightened Rabbit travelling back in time to the 90s and loving every second of it.