Mastodon – Medium Rarities

5 out of 5

Label: Reprise

Produced by: Various

Somewhere along the way from Blood Mountain to Once More ‘Round the Sun, I developed a weird listening relationship with Mastodon, which mixed instant excitement about what they’d cook up next – a metal band which had conquered the major label move without sacrificing their genre chops – with almost in-built boredom regarding the same, as the Highs and Mehs I experienced with their release cycle were truly only one or the other. The two albums I mentioned are perfect to my ears; the ones between, and after… less so. Emperor of Sand – the album which followed Sun – had the anti-notoriety of not even encouraging me to finish listening to the singles released prior to the disc, although I reserve the right to come back and tell you how great Sand is when I eventually sit down to give it time.

I bought Medium Rarities, as I continue to buy Mastodon stuff, because the Mehs are still insanely polished, and the occasional Highs are so good, but I had even more bias going into this, because it’s an odds and sods collection, and those are generally filler releases to me: stop gaps while we run out a contract, or figure something else out on our real upcoming release. These things can be great sets for dedicated fans, but casual listeners – and although I’ve bought every Mastodon disc, I’d still consider myself at that level – generally get something more uneven; perhaps an indication as to why some of these tracks weren’t previously collected.

So I bought it, and I sat on it.

Reminder: I’m an idiot.

Because Medium Rarities is a lesson in why it pays to continue checking out Mastodon’s stuff, and to not sleep on it; more than that, though, its presentation is another slap upside the head, in that those albums I’ve been mixed on likely deserve more attention, as this set helps to recontextualize its tracks – presenting them as live cuts, or instrumentals, or just by dint of setting them between other highlights – and lays clear how consistently solid Mastodon is, able to jump across genres (a pretty straight Flaming Lips cover??) and yet never not sound like themselves. In other words, every track on here lands, swinging between the “cleaner” rock of major label years and the prog-metal of yore, with stopovers into fantastic rips like the Aqua Teen track they did, or the moody Game of Thrones White Walker track. While the live songs may not add anything, they have a slightly looser quality that’s cleaned up when in the studio, and shows that… yeah, they can do this live and sound just as good. Juxtaposing those with the instrumentals (and then scattered between various vocal styles – growls; shouts; singing) completes the picture of a band which can cover all bases, skill- and style-wise. And yes, from that, you can take away that the sequencing here is key: all of the above flows together perfectly – thought was put into how to make that Flaming Lips track fit in – and doesn’t get stuck on any one mode.

So instead of an odds and sods disc being good with qualifications, Matodon rewrite the rules: they prove to be too good for qualifications; even their odds and sods are must-haves.