One of the finest things about Willy Mason's lo-fi, folksy debut (2004's critically acclaimed Where the Humans Eat) was the rawness; the fact that it sounded like it had been recorded in the 18 year-old's bedroom. The stripped-back sound perfectly complimented the simplicity of the melodies, and Willy's shakily endearing vocal delivery.
It comes as something of a shock, then, that If The Ocean Gets Rough is far more polished - more complete. Female backing vocals join pianos, sweeping strings and electric(!) guitar; the drum-kit sounds complete (rather than sounding like a single snare drum and cardboard box) and is that a synthesizer I can hear (on ''I Can't Sleep'')? Has Willy Mason gone 'prog'?
No - of course not. His voice still wobbles from time to time, and the music is still based around his simple acoustic guitar playing (the lovely ''The World That I Wanted'', for example), but there's a newfound confidence in his voice, which is matched by the new 'fuller' sound. On top of this, Mason's (already impressive) songwriting is still as strong as ever, if not better. The lyrics still show a maturity well beyond his years, but the addition of the extra instrumentation allows him to explore other areas of songwriting, rather than tying him to the 'one man and his guitar' school of music.
With Mason's newly-shown confidence, and songs as great as ''Save Myself'', ''We Can Be Strong'', and ''The End of The Race'' If The Ocean Gets Rough takes the fragile simplicity of his debut, and builds upon it, creating an album of songs that songwriters twice his age will envy. It's pretty early in the year to be proclaiming a contender for 'Album of the Year'; but this 22 year-old's new record is certainly vying for the title... --Simon Fernand
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