Sometimes you wake up at 4am with a great idea for a musical project. You get all excited about its possibilities, tossing and turning for half-an-hour before finally falling back into a restless sleep. In the harsh light of day you realise you will never follow up on your nocturnal flash of brilliance. Not so in the case of Ben Mason, member of The Smallgoods and The Zillions. Somewhere along his musical journey he flashed on the idea of recording a capella versions of his favourite Australian indie-pop songs. The result is Acapulco and Volume 1, which implies that there’s more to follow.
The formula for Mason’s re-interpretations is deceptively simple. Layering different vocal tracks one upon the other, he fills out the sound spectrum with hummed bass lines, melodies and multi-part harmonies, before adding a main lyric line on top. It’s not quite as intricate as Brian Wilson’s vocal arrangements on Pet Sounds, but what works well here is the minimalism of Mason’s approach.
On opener ‘Do It First’, written by wuss-pop wunderkind Geoff O’Connor (Crayon Fields), he exposes the intricacies of the song’s gorgeous melody with appropriate restraint. The same applies to the Ned Collette-penned ‘The Country With A Smile’. Pikelet’s ‘Size Matters’ is effective in that Mason’s version accurately reflects Evelyn Morris’s technique of layering abstract loops on top of each other. Rounding out the EP are cover versions of pop gems by Dappled Cities, Mid-State Orange and The Zillions, which he performs in along with Sidewinder’s Nick Craft.
By the end though, the limitations of Acapulco’s minimalist approach become apparent. Once the novelty of not hearing musical instruments wears off and the structural formula is absorbed, the listener is left to consider the actual craft of the songwriting rather than the vocal mastery of the interpreter. It is here that this exercise is most effective, laying bare the talents of the songs’ authors by stripping away the conventional pop music trappings of their original settings. It’s not a bad thing at all.
by René Schaefer