Looking around his living room, Keon Masters’ eyes fall on the coffee table, where pastel posters promoting his album release show sit. While commenting that his name’s large font on the sign “builds humility,” he seems to contemplate the long road that carried him to a solo career.
At the top of 2018, the wildly popular indie-rock band Brave Baby, which Masters’ fronted, decided to “take some time,” as he puts it. Several of the group’s members, including drummer Wolfgang Zimmerman and guitarist Christian Chidester, soldiered on in various projects and ventures.
But, Masters remained largely quiet over the following 18 months, slowly amassing a group of uniquely Keon songs for his debut album, Many Thanks.
“There’s some really personal things on here,” Masters says about the album. “There’s animosity and understanding on there. I also got married at the end of 2017, in August. So, a lot of it’s about me and my wife [Victoria].
“It’s really a lot about my brain-cycle in the year of 2018 and what I was feeling.”
In more ways than one, Masters’ name and legacy are tethered to Brave Baby, and while Many Thanks is not a calculated revolt against his last project, the album allows Masters to break away from Brave Baby’s established indie aesthetic.
Masters begins his career proper on a sonically sugar-sweet opening song, “<3 of the City.” While the exterior is a loveable summer indie-pop tune, the songwriter lays bare the trouble that built his relationship with his wife.
“You and I were made to be partners/ we’ve got the chemistry and the drama/ Love is patient, love is kind, and all that sweet shit/ but love is fuckin’ hard and complicated,” Masters sings on what might be the most realistic love song of the year.
Two tracks later, “Got 2 Luv It” directly addresses the then-and-the-now.
“Filling the void of the boys in the band/ by walking the dog, a bag of shit in your hand/ claiming the whole town like you used to/ Got to love it,” he sarcastically sings.
Negative space is used to put reggae-influenced drums in full view, while the guitar makes small stabs to fill the emptiness.
“I write about some things that are like the fleeting passing of time and of your value,” he says. “There was once a time where things were looking really sweet and now, a couple page turns later, it’s not. And it’s swift.”
“Blade of Grass,” the album’s one true “rawk” song, releases all of the LP’s pent-up energy in a nervous psychedelic banger. Sustained tremolo complements a fast and groovy bassline, and Masters sells the song’s drained persona, although his confidence can’t hide for too long.
Chidester, Brave Baby’s lead guitarist, gives a fiery and thoughtful solo on the song’s second half, subverting the expected verse-chorus model.
One of the last songs, “Float on By,” is a cosmic-country turn for Masters. He gets as close to Americana as he can, but leaves his signature sun-washed stamp everywhere. Just like the rest of the album, the songwriter shows that he’s willing to explore (pretty much) any genre that interests him.
The varied flavors on Many Thanks were liberating for Masters and they provide a detailed likeness of him. Masters, openly embracing his imperfections, remembers the old days with fondness, but enjoys the present — although it’s different.
“I got to make these decisions, and I got to do what I wanted, and I didn’t have to clear it with anybody,” says Masters. “With Brave Baby, it was such a democratic process, which was so fun and so awesome. Jamming live with your best friends is irreplaceable. It’s like catching lightning in a bottle, but there’s also something about beginning and ending a project by yourself.”
Many Thanks isn’t iconoclastic; it’s adjacent to the music he’s made in the past, but it feels like the work of an individual, as opposed to that of a group. That attribute was the result of Masters relearning how to write songs post-Brave Baby.
“I forgot how to start and finish a song by myself,” Masters says. “It took me three or four months, when I first started, to finish one song. It was really hard. Eventually, I broke through that invisible wall, and I just caught a wave, and it was working. I felt like I was churning out tunes.”
However it happened, Masters broke the writing block curse, composing over 50 songs since the beginning of 2018. Perhaps it’s a good indicator that he’s figured out this whole solo career thing. Where he takes it from here is anyone’s guess, but he’s hopeful that another album is right around the corner.
Keon Masters’ debut album will be released on Fri. Oct. 4. To hear Many Thanks a day early, head over to charlestoncitypaper.com on Thurs. Oct. 3.
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