After 10 years with Hooray For Earth, Noel Heroux had run out of steam, and after stating that he was creatively spent he split the band. Unusually for someone claiming to be all out of ideas and uninspired, Heroux didn’t opt to rest, instead, he set about recording new material towards the end of 2014. Within a few months his debut album as Mass Gothic was finished and most impressively, it’s an album that is anything but short on inspiration. The main themes are primarily despondency, doubt and relationship agony and lyrically it is at times almost painfully introspective.
On opening track Mind Is Probably, the first lines Heroux sings are “So I made a mistake, how many hours can I spend silently in one room”, as he encapsulates the feelings he has regarding the situation (whether he’s referring to splitting the band, his relationship, or something else is unclear however). As he reflects on a period of rehabilitation, the song slowly builds from a barely there synth track and into an elaborate dance stomp, reinforcing a growing positivity within him.
The back and forth between feelings of doubt and worry expressed via his lyrics and the music’s desire to cut loose provide the album with some of its finest moments. The tail end of Mind Is Probably for example suddenly starts to thunder with noise, shifting bass tones vocal chants and an incessant drum pattern. Want To, Bad addresses the notion of being the eternal outsider who is loneliest in a crowd. “I don’t really mind not saying nothing” croons Heroux standing on the edge of a metaphorical dancefloor and muttering at the bartender “I don’t belong…give me another”. And then the chorus kicks in, evoking the spirit of M83 as Jessica Zambri (Heroux’s wife) takes up vocal duties, practically insisting that Heroux get out of the shadows and onto the dancefloor. Whether he makes it there is anyone’s guess, but with the introduction of some fired-up guitar and seething keyboards, the song peaks with a sense of anger and energy (although as we all know, anger is an energy).
Every Night You’ve Got To Save Me goes straight for the pop-jugular and throws a big chorus on top of a big doo-wop/Heatwave inspired shebang. This being Heroux of course, any number of sweetened ooh-ooh’s can’t hide the feelings of depression that populate the lyrics. As chipper as it sounds on the surface, it’s sung by a bloke that wakes up tired everyday. Every Night… is perhaps the most in-your-face song on the album, but Mass Gothic possesses plenty of subtlety too. Money Counter’s laid back groove and crafty chorus calls to mind the stripped back pop-nous of Prince (even an occasional layer of noise can’t hide that). The quite beautiful closing track Subway Phone keeps things simple too, but it’s here where the opposition between music and lyrics finally breaks down. Rather than providing the positive spin, a mournful keyboard line merely provides support, and as vocalist and accompaniment come together Heroux sings “It’s easier today”, creating one of the most poignant and significant moments on the album.
Certainly there moments here where the inspiration might have been a little thin. The detached techno vibe of Territory doesn’t quite work, and Own The Road’s only purpose seems to be to provide a segue between tracks, but for the most part Mass Gothic finds an artist in the throes of re-discovering what it is that makes him tick and exorcising the demons of the last few years. It might be a difficult listen at times, but there are enough jaw dropping moments here to suggest that Mass Gothic is more than a means to an end.