Jordaan Mason’s epic Eath To Ursa Major is intended as an exploration of topics such as, gender dysphoria, surviving sexual violence, and living with Bipolar Disorder symptoms, things rarely if ever overtly discussed through music. ETUM, self-produced and released by the Toronto-based musician, did not go through the pristine decorating of high end mastering, and sounds like it was recorded in a stairwell somewhere, which it actually was. This low fi sound is simultaneously endearing (especially because it’s rather well-done) and one of ETUM‘s two greatest weaknesses. Had these 17 tracks, rich with airy piano, strings, and Jordaan’s ghostly howl, had the chance to undergo more professional production I firmly believe the various elements would shine at appropriate times.
The second major bump for Jordaan’s release is how painfully slow every song is. In terms of song structure, feel, and lyrical layering, the best comparison I have is Sufjan Stevens, (although Neutral Milk Hotel comes to mind too), yet both of these bands recognize that, as much as they enjoy achingly slow, crawling songs, the periodic uptempo track allows for sonic contours; much needed when the song content is generally depressing and self-defeating. In my head, I speed up such tracks as “Awl/Leather” and “Liturgy Part 3” into scanty jaunts a la Ben Folds Five, which would pull out so much from these songs, would add pop elements that would enliven the album.
The best song, which is one of the faster and more pulsing tracks anyway, is “Why Fit?” The lyrics are gorgeous: “If I can’t make myself a home/ I guess I don’t belong here… Will anyone ever know my name?” The humdrum of it all reminds me of Dr. Dog. One song that does function as a dragger is “Fire/Housework”, with it’s horror-shaped organ. “What he call sung/ I call unheard,” Jordaan grumbles in a ruminant and fearful manner that is gripping.
Perhaps ETUM is just a bit too avant garde for my tastes. The numerous artsy, brief instrumentals and the many melodies anchored with gravity deserve some fine tuning. In a way, this album could almost be Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood To The Head or The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife, and I think all that would take is a savvy producer to bump Jordaan’s heart and soul and add some spotlights.
That being said, I know plenty of people who will sink readily into the bath of this album, as cold and dark as the water might be. This album is not about a hero, but an anti-hero, a fallen angel; a story where redemption might be there, down the line, but has no room within the confines of these tracks. If that’s tempting then I say check out Earth To Ursa Major.