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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Morality as allegory

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

There are a few organizations as mysterious as the Freemasons. Members are sworn to secrecy and work hard to stay out of the spotlight. The last time Freemasonry made an attention-drawing misstep was in 2004, when an inductee was shot in the face and killed by an elder Mason during an initiation ritual gone wrong. Not surprisingly, this bit of information turned a few heads ... and a chorus of "What the fuck are these Freemasons up to anyway?" soon rang out.

Mason Proper is appropriately named after a term associated with Freemasonry. Like an exposé by the Anti-Masonry movement that reveals spooky snippets of life inside the temple walls, their music reveals glimpses into the inner workings of a band that either has an affinity for or an inability to escape from the darkness. Working from a base of ominous introspection, the Ann Arbor quintet builds an atmospheric yet driving blend of mysterious and paranoid indie rock. Frontman and lead songwriter Jon Visger (taking cues from Thom Yorke and Death Cab's Ben Gibbard) throws himself into his music, his vocals coming across as the pleading words of a guy who knows things he wants to shield you from.

When Visger emphatically repeats, "We are safe for the time being" in the album's stand out closer — titled, appropriately enough, "Safe for the Time Being" — his voice betrays a mixture of relief and weariness, leaving the listener to choose whether to be reassured or shaken up. "Down that twisted path, you can find us there/ Up those twisted stairs we plan and prepare," he sings on "Only a Moment." It feels like an invitation to join this group as they launch their own secret society. Whether you choose to partake in the initiation ritual that is Olly Oxen Free is entirely up to you. But once you know the secret handshake, there'll be no turning back for savvy music fans.

CD release party is Thursday, Sept. 25, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555. With the Silent Years and the Novel Citizen.

Laura Witkowski reviews music for Metro Times. Send comments to


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