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Keon Masters – Many Thanks (Review)

This is not a Brave Baby album.

As discussed in Extra Chill’s October 3rd interview with Keon Masters, it’s hard to shake off a Brave Baby association in Charleston, even two years after they last put on a concert. They were the name in the city’s music scene for a number of years, and it seemed like they vanished in no time at all. It’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when SUSTO would be opening for them, but that was the norm as recently as December 31, 2017.

A debut solo album from Keon Masters, Brave Baby’s lead singer, sounds like it could be an outlet for another Brave Baby record to sneak its way into existence. While the sound of the album bares a resemblance, Many Thanks plays out as Keon’s project. It strikes the right balance of showing off Masters’ ability and potential as a solo act while also giving Brave Baby fans the kind of familiarity they crave.

Many Thanks has a certain gloss to it, which the album cover reflects well. This is a bright album full of modern pop charm and sleekness. It’s oozing with summertime bliss from start to finish, so much so that it’s almost a disservice to the album that it was released in October.

Part of the fun of Many Thanks is that it gets better as it goes along, with a number of the album’s highlights coming in its latter half. “Feel Nuthin’” is a music festival crowd-pleaser waiting to happen, armed with one of the juiciest recorded bass lines ever to come out of Charleston and a cool sea breeze lead guitar. “Limbo” is an equally fun, laid back, ocean wave rhythm driven song with a nice touch of bongos on the chorus. Instrumentally, the album has a lot going on but it never feels like too much, and every part of each songs whether its bongos, a light droning guitar, a drum machine, synths, whatever Masters and his band of merrymen throw together, they make it gel.

At the end of the day though, the structure that holds up Many Thanks is its production. There’s glossy modern shines, some nice VHS instructional tape synth moments, some good old fashioned corny yacht rock (corny in a good way), some great bits of artificial drum distortion, and those bass tones. Lord have mercy, those clean, full-bodied bass tones.

This album sounds like Charleston in the springtime. Bright, pastel colored, breezy, and not unbearably humid. The versatility of the production makes Many Thanks warm and familiar while also giving it a unique pop rock sound that teeters between modern and retro. It’s on these songs that Masters’ smooth, lightly nasaled singing really clicks as well, teetering somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Blue October. As weird as that sounds it really works. Every little tone and style that goes into the pot unlocks something new to enjoy in each song, and all of those touches are there to every individual song’s benefit. Mostly.

The album’s deficiencies come when it tries to push the fun in the sun angle a little too far, primarily on “<3 of the City” and “Got 2 Luv It” the album’s first and third tracks respectively. On those songs in particular you can hear the effort in trying to make the feel good hit of the summer.

As well as Masters pulls off the slick, “Ray-Bans watching the sunset” type of sound, bubblegum pop sweetness just isn’t where he thrives. Lines like “love is fucking hard”, the Super Nintendo high pitched synth notes, the chillwave-esque samples in the background, even down to the text message type stylization of the song’s titles, it just feels forced. Of course, that’s only two songs on the album, and they are undeniably joyful which certainly has merit to it.

Many Thanks is a solid debut from a Charleston artist with plenty of stickers already on his helmet. Keon Masters has found a sound to build off of entirely separate from the history of his previous musical outfit. If you came for Brave Baby part deux, you may not get precisely what you came for but you won’t be disappointed. If you came for something to fuel the twilight of warm weather and local beach trip accessibility, you’ve got that too. No matter what you came for, you will leave interested in what the future holds for Keon Masters.