When word first spread of a new Mastodon release, the immediate reaction was surprise. After all, album-of-the-year candidate Emperor Of Sand was released just six months prior, and it’s unusual for a band – even one who writes concept records about whales and cancer – to change course midstream. Things became clearer when it was revealed that this 21-minute EP featured four leftovers from the Emperor… and Once More ’Round The Sun sessions, but even if the band were wise to trim them because they didn’t fit in at the time, it doesn’t mean they fit well together now – a common problem with b-sides collections.
Still, that’s not to say these songs are throwaways, as all show in one way or another that, unlike their namesake, Mastodon continue to evolve. At first, the lush and melancholic North Side Star sounds like a song from a David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino film, but it eventually shapeshifts to reveal a danceable groove and a blazing solo. Its closest sibling here is the hypnotic title track, an experimental and atmospheric slice of pedal steel noir that crescendos deliberately toward a guitar-drenched payoff. Blue Walsh, meanwhile, is a hazy, midtempo prog jam with a trippy riff, breakup-inspired lyrics (‘You disappeared into the sea’) and a Torche-like burst of fuzzy power-pop near the end. The EP’s raison d’être, however, is the uplifting Toe To SOFTWAREmark” gingersoftwareuiphraseguid=“8bee0a2f-cb8e-4d4b-b6bc-cd83ad40cce6” id=“f67807bc-d626-4d13-b449-3588b77b6eef”>Toes, a song that’s arguably more compelling than the other material from the Emperor… sessions. With a vocal melody reminiscent of a bearded, tattooed guy channelling U2 or Peter Gabriel, the track is neither cold nor dark, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come.