Change in music happens often, but depending on who you talk to, it can be welcome or not. When Taylor Swift released ‘1989‘, some liked it while others decried the loss of the wide-eyed country singer, with stats confirming the former outnumbered the latter. When Renee Fleming went from soprano opera superstar to indie-rock singer, no one cared. Why did one succeed while the other didn’t? I don’t have the answer, but my guess is that while Taylor Swift dropped hints of the upcoming shift on her previous record, ‘Red‘, Renee Fleming blindsided fans with her right turn. Change that happens gradually can be received well, while abrupt ones force splintering in audiences (Garth Brooks, anyone?). To note, Fleming has yet to release a follow-up to ‘Dark Hope‘, as well she shouldn’t.
When Mayson The Soul began rolling out the songs for ‘Photographer‘, you knew something new was happening. As much attention as he received for the Korean Music Awards-nominated ‘Jackasoul‘, all of it well-deserved, Mayson would not stay in the R&B singer mold for long. As new as ‘Photographer’ may sound, Mayson The Soul first LP isn’t a drastic turn, and that’s a good thing.
From the beginning, ‘Photographer’ sets Mayson The Soul as a singer-songwriter in the R&B-rock vein. On ‘Jackasoul,’ Mayson dropped rock flourishes here and there, with its most obvious in the title track that closed the EP. Here, the opposite occurs, with songs that fit the twangy garage rock style with R&B bass riffs to make the songs dance. On the track “Talk,” R&B is on the forefront, with the drum-synth interplay creating a cool groove to boogie to, with electric guitar on the background creating the tension inherent in the lyrics. That interplay helps set up interesting tracks like “6 To 9” with its R&B-disco aesthetic, and “How I Feel About You,” a pop-rock song with stellar singing from both Mayson and Hoody. On some parts of the album, R&B and rock play nicely to really cool effect, while on the other parts, rock takes over.
In transitioning to ‘Photographer,’ Mayson The Soul let his non-falsetto voice develop, hinted at on the somber, hipster-centric opener, “Bushwick,” featuring Hyukoh. With a more developed guitar sound, it lays the groundwork for the more band-centric songs on ‘Photographer’, like “Gray,” the ballad “Good Night”, and the raucous “Somebody.” The more fascinating of these are the English tracks “Rosa” and “Davi.” Clearly new to the language, the songs are hard to hard to follow at first, but their strange syntax makes these songs charming. By keeping the tempo on the middle range, the pleas in “Rosa” are cute and sincere; “Davi,” on the other hand, is a mess of swagger and aegyo with its hair slicked back. Mayson The Soul and his band then jam well on “Photographer,” keeping the record a refreshing shade of cool.
Taking the hints of rock that sprinkled ‘Jackasoul,’ Mayson The Soul tapped into his inner hipster for ‘Photographer,’ bringing out his electric guitar and his band to cool effect. From “Bushwick” on, you know Mayson isn’t just a singer, but a singer-songwriter willing to take a different path than the one that brought him to the public eye. The risk works, with polished R&B-rock tracks like “How I Feel About You” and “Good Night” easing you into his new style, and “Davi,” “6 To 9,” and “Gray” making the transition official. As an album, ‘Photographer’ is slick and cool, fitting rock around Mayson The Soul rather than the other way around.