Last year, Jordaan Mason released The Decline Of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization, then the most recent in a long line of intoxicating missives from the Toronto-based musician dating all the way back to 2004. Throughout their long career, Mason has used sagging folk and scratchy lo-fi rock as a means to explore their own identity and standing within the world, crafting evocative and complex portraits that feel like subtly shifting mirages of sound and shape. That mutability takes a logical leap on form less, Mason’s newest release, which they describe as “11 short songs about dysphoria, transitioning, becoming, but not becoming anything in particular. feeling like a mess, staying inside. unnaming things. forming less.”
Where Decline worked in wordy and extended metaphors, with most of the tracks stretching past the nine-minute mark, form less feels more compact and graspable in comparison. But in many ways it’s even more abstract; less pointed and more impressionistic, built around interlocking harmonies and deflated ambience. On the most straightfoward tracks, like early single “I Was Coerced” or the powerful “Plural,” Mason bats against the confines of language and the self. “I am plural/ I guess I am two,” they sing on the latter. “Does it belong to you? Does it belong to you?” they emphasize, creating a hook out of the unknowing. Elsewhere, Mason channels the wordless beauty of Jordan Lee (“Becoming”), the tempestuous fire of Conor Oberst (“Unable”), the lyrical and emotional economy of Mike Hadreas (“Aphasia”).
That last song closes on the line “Everything I wear feels like a costume,” a sentiment that echoes throughout form less and Mason’s work as a whole, as they attempt to navigate their own identity, trying to find a name for the nameless and a categorization for something that cannot and should not be categorized. “Map On The Body” extends that thought even further to a compelling spoken word: “I draw a map on my body, one line for each time I said: no/ It is difficult to follow, I followed it and got lost.”
And while Mason may feel lost, they are not aimless. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the years since they started making music, Mason’s picked-at meditations have only grown stronger and more self-assured, even as the content within has proved more elusive. Mason’s built up a cult following that speaks of them with the same fervor and reverence that reminds me a lot of how people used to rally around Will Toledo, and we all know what happened with that. Not to say that Mason even desires that same sort of meteoric rise, but form less and the rest of their knotted, prolific back catalog proves they’re more than capable. Listen below.