On a frigid Thursday evening in mid-January, I parked my car on an ice-covered neighborhood road somewhere in Irvington and carefully walked to the front door of Lauren Moore’s cozy Eastside home. I let myself in to a house I’d never visited before and tip toed around the living room until I heard laughter from the basement and realized the party was downstairs. Friends, fans, and followers of Moore and her newest project, Mass Love, had gathered in her bedroom studio to hang out, eat Jockamo Pizza, drink beer, and listen to her labor of love that’s been a year in the making.
Mass Love formed three years ago when South African producer David Beukes saw one of Moore’s videos she had posted in a thread on Reddit. Instantly attracted to her deep, soulful vocals and songwriting abilities, he reached out for permission to remix one of her tracks.
The pair hit it off and soon started working together, albeit sporadically. Beukes noted that they could never seem to make the time for an album and half-jokingly criticizes, “We suck a lot, especially at time management.”
When they heard about an annual month-long challenge called February Album Writing Month (FAWM), the structure and pressure to write 14 songs in one month was instantly appealing.
“We figured it would provide a good, disciplined framework,” Beukes explains. “For a month I got up at 2 a.m., which sounds hectic but actually isn’t because I have a very small kid so I get up really early anyway.”
In that one month- despite the time difference and distance- they got the job done while simultaneously maintaining jobs and lives. Post-production took much longer (Beukes says it was officially finished only days before the listening party), but the end product was more than worth the wait.
As the clock ticked over into the 8 o’clock hour, with introductions and backstories out of the way, the official unveiling of Prototype began. Beukes joined live from Africa via Skype (it was 2 a.m. for him), while the Indianapolis attendees waited patiently for the songs they had come to hear. As a loud crash followed by a gentle, melodic violin rolled across the room, conversations were silenced and all attention shifted to the music.
Opening track, “The Fall”, resonates with an inexplicable, larger-than-life cinematic experience. As Moore revealed that the song’s focus is Caprica, a city from Battlestar Galactica, Beukes began to chuckle out loud in the background- the same way a sibling would while teasing his little sister. Written in response to a FAWM challenge to compose a song about a city, Moore’s inspiration for “The Fall” was the first of many references to her inner sci-fi geek, as well as a peek at the hilarious banter resulting from her and Beukes’ playful dynamic.
Time To Go
“Time To Go” begins with flowing, heavily digitized vocals and a deep, twisting bass line. Samples of Moore singing are chopped and distorted to give certain parts of the song a robotic texture, while the strikingly raw chorus is both enchanting and curious.
And I’m not gonna be sorry for feeling nothing in return. And I’m not gonna feel guilty for seeing that it’s time to go.
She goes on to sing in the second verse,
Wish I could make you see the reality. I swear I didn’t mean to turn you on. It means nothing to me, just a little distraction.
Sung with conviction, one would easily believe Moore is sharing a personal tale of a past relationship with little substance in “Time To Go.” Surprisingly, however, she remembers listening to a lot of hip hop when she was writing the track and says that the culture of disposable relationships really struck her at the time.
“I was like, ‘How can they say shit like that?’ I forget what [Lil Wayne] was saying but it was something like, ‘You’re gonna waste my time unless you’re gonna get drunk and fuck me.’”
In a moment of grand creative instinct, Moore decided to channel her inner Lil Wayne and write as if she, too, could use men and toss them aside just like Weezy does with his bitches. Her songwriting stands out most when she steps into someone else’s shoes and composes from their point of view- something she does frequently throughout Prototype.
Moore explained, “I like to sing from other peoples’ perspective. When I write, it always ends up being about one guy. Always,” she said sarcastically, but honestly, as she rolled her eyes at herself.
And then, in the last 30 seconds of the song, the listener is introduced to a distinctive quality of Beukes’ production work that is consistent in his work throughout Prototype – The Unexpected Genre Change. A Night At The Roxbury-esque beat drops in and the robotic bleep-bloops return from earlier to carry the song out with energetic fist pumps and booty bumps.
Beukes introduced this track by discussing its evolution over time.
“I struggled for quite some time to find this track. It went through about three different versions before it got here. I hated it for the longest time because it just didn’t want to work. And then finally I decided to make it evil and then it worked.”
The “evil” that he speaks of is, again, The Unexpected Genre Change. It begins innocently enough- a distressed, but harmless, Moore sings breathily over stringed instruments. Just under one minute in, “Never Be” adjusts its mood towards something troubling, then does it again 30 seconds later- progressively getting darker and menacing with each step- altering between the two sensations for the remainder of the song.
At the listening party, “Spring Green” was the seventh track played, but it’s positioned as the twelth track on the final version of Prototype. The switch was the result of an “independent jury” of opinions that came forth during the listening party.
“There are two tracks on this album with this kind of feel- this borderline acoustic funk. There is some debate…”
He paused and took a breath before continuing,
“… some people feel that one of the songs is superior to the other.”
Moore giggled lightly to herself and Beukes went on to explain the present conflict.
“I would like some support for this particular argument. I’m not saying that either track is inferior per se, but there’s one later on called ‘Didn’t You Know’ that kicks this one’s ass and I would like that confirmed by an independent jury. Okay, now you can play it.”
As Moore messed with speaker adjustments to play the song, she explained that it was another track written in response to the FAWM challenge to write about a city. This time, however, she wrote from the perspective of Frank Lloyd Wright after she visited Spring Green, Wisconsin to see Wright’s Taliesin as well as The House on the Rock.
“Spring Green” sounds like a hazy summertime stroll feels: humid, unhurried, maybe even doleful. The combination of Moore’s entrancing, smoky vocals and Beukes’ bluesy, swinging production meld together in a radiant way.
Didn’t You Know
“Didn’t You Know”, the song rivaling “Spring Green”, comes on strong with a grandiose, horn-heavy 15-second introduction, at which point one guest spoke up to end the debate immediately.
“Lauren, I’m sorry. You’re wrong,” he said.
The rest of the attendees laughed lightheartedly as they braced themselves for the rest of the rousing track.
Classy and nostalgic, “Didn’t You Know” is reminiscent of waltzing to jazz and swaying to a big band blues concert. It invokes images of glamour and grace.
As it ended, it received the greatest applause of any track of the evening.
Moore looked directly at Beukes through her webcam and said with a hint of disbelief in her voice, “I guess everybody agrees with you.”
She fliped around in her chair to the rest of the room and continueed, “How weird is that? I don’t like it at all. I really don’t.”
Big Brother Beukes chimed in again, this time with some insightful advice.
“When you hate the track most, that’s generally when other people like it.”
The only track on the album with vocal credits not belonging to Moore or Beukes is “Emotions Chasing”, enlisting local up-and-comers from the relentlessly collaborating and incessantly working talent pool known as Ghost Town. Moore acknowledged the challenges of working with such a busy group of creatives (“It took me forever to get Ghost Town to agree to record on this track.”) but also pondered the nature of Mass Love’s relationship with the group; could an electro-synth pop music project “date” a collective of rapping emcees?
Prototype gains momentum with “Emotions Chasing” as it heads into the last third of the album. It’s an eclectic mix of poppy electronic music with fancy rhythms and big, cinematic sounds to this point, but the dash of hip hop gives Prototype a healthy dose of surliness- most notably on Peteyboy’s verse at the song’s midpoint:
Sometimes I think this is more than what you think you wanted. Just cut the shit; we just being honest. Woulda gave you the stars and every moon in Mars if that was what you wanted, but now it’s stuck in this ugly moment.
Bookended with strong support from Sirius Blvck and Freddie Bunz, all elevated by Moore’s buoyant, dreamy vocals, “Emotions Chasing” is a Prototype standout.
Closer “Machine” is aptly named: futuristic, industrial, and perfectly engineered. As the most aggressive and dance-worthy track on the album, it’s a strong note to end on that leaves the listener ready for more.
Luckily for that hungry listener, Mass Love is nearing the end of FAWM 2014 which will eventually become the second release in the series.
Expecting the obvious answer that I received, Moore and Beukes both nod to the time zone and mileage difference as the single biggest challenge to the project. Once they settled into a routine, however, it came to be a regular part of their day.
“Luckily, Beukes is an early riser anyway, so we found a good 2-3 hour chunk (my later evening, his early morning) to get things done and attempt to be on the same page every day,” said Moore. Slow South African internet and regular power outages on Beukes’ end made for the occasional roadblock as well.
The rewards, however, were clearly worth the trouble. Moore cited the “undeniable camaraderie that can only occur between internet friends” as the greatest gift of the project- a necessary ingredient in the making of a cross-Atlantic album.
Beukes agreed, “What we have is chemistry. I can’t think of a way you can plan for chemistry, because of how organic it is. Its impact on the work is crucial, and I think the entire project sounds the way it does not so much because Lauren expresses so well behind the microphone or because I can make strings sound pretty, but because we just “get” each other. On a creative level, we connect effortlessly.”
It is that chemistry that allowed two people from different sides of the world to create an album that is both eclectic and coherent; equally fluid and mechanical. Stream Prototype below and if you fancy what you hear, float Mass Love $10 and show your support on Bandcamp.