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Heller Mason: Minimalist and Anchored Minimalist & Anchored
CD Album 2006 | Silber 052
11 tracks, 40 minutes
$12 ($18 international, $5 download (256kbps, ~73 megs))
Hand drawn emotional road maps in this slowcore-americana debut in a style like Neil Young's Harvest meeting Swans' The Burning World.  If your favorite Silber releases are The Alcohol EPs & Jamie Barnes' albums, check this one out.
: Press Release
track listing:  After All is Said & Done, More Was Said Than Done; Packing My Bags for Hell; I Hate Drama & You're Being Dramatic; Drown the Villages on the Maine Coast; Barreling Towards Nowhere Like There’s No Tomorrow; Sick to Death of Sobriety; You Called My Bluff; Minimalist & Anchored; So, This is How it Ends; Duluth; Fools & Angels
Heller Mason's debut recording, Minimalist & Anchored, is a quite satisfying blend of dreamy Americana and the slow/sad-core aesthetic.  Conjuring by turns Mojave 3 and the seventies folk-rockers, the band burnish their bittersweet tunes with cellos and lap steel, imbuing them with a soft amber glow that only occasionally turns twee.  Opener "After All Was Said & Done, More Was Said than Done" is a shoe-in for country-rock ballad of the year, main man Todd Vandenberg's vocals all honey and warmth.  The title tune musters all the heartbreak ever felt by Bob Wratten, and "Fools & Angels" is sensitive boy folk brought to perfection.
~ Michael Meade, Skyscraper

The Neil Young influence on this album is apparent from the beginning, but without the off-key singing & abstract lyric writing Young is famous for.  Heller Mason's masterpiece is here & is very heavy on the acoustic instrumentation including brilliant pedal steel & violin work.  I was very much reminded of something Ocean Blue would have done in their later years.  This piece is aching, but not melancholy in any way.  Just beautiful acoustic music perfect for those long drives through the mountains on a wintery afternoon.  Highly recommended.
~ Poseidon, Gothic Beauty

Nothing quite beats the sound of rain on my roof accompanied by the sound of Nick Drake's "Five Leaves". Now, there's a new classic rain album on the horizon by Todd Vandenberg, whose band is collectively known as Heller Mason. His new record is an unabashed reflection on his mental state, whatever state that may be at a given point in time. Breezy vocals that seem weighed down by today's burdens are what these songs express best. While the majority of the songs are bleak in a country-folk kind of way, there's a ton of real, haunting beauty to be uncovered here. On "Barreling Towards Nowhere Like There's No Tomorrow", Ashlee Gene Krull sounds like one haunted character. His vocal chords accompanied by a lonely guitar and a sad rhythm section is a perfect example of what folk music should be when it keeps to its bare necessities. "So, This is How it Ends?" features some haunting cello playing that meanders around Ashlee's vocals. Washes of lap steel guitar make for some interesting contrasts to the sad beauty that envelops the record from its beginnings. I don't know whether this is music that I should recommend for those suffering from depression or whether this may be a dangerous move after all?
~ Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta

A fine collection of songs by Todd Vandenberg, aka Heller Mason. The tracks are built on Vandenberg’s voice and acoustic guitar, with tasteful backing by bass & drums, while other guests add equally tasteful female vocals, electric guitars, lap steel, cello, piano, and trumpet. Much of this material would be at home in the KFJC country music library, and indeed that’s where I’d file this CD if it wasn’t so heavily weighted toward pleasantly melancholy folk-pop songs reminiscent of Nick Drake, Mark Kozelek, and Mark Eitzel, all cited in Silber’s press blurb as reference points for this music, and all good calls in my opinion. (Neil Young has been mentioned too, but I’m not with that one so much; if anything, this material leans more toward the well-polished, non-ragged end of the scale.) Heller Mason’s debut release is a strong combination of sad, melodic ruminations and gently uptempo country-ish rockers. Clean playing and first-rate recorded sound too. Nice job all around.
~ Max Level, KFJC

The culmination of three years of work, Heller Mason's Minimalist & Anchored finds sole member/songwriter Todd Vandenberg enlisting the help of a slew of additional musicians to flesh out and breathe life into a set of noteworthy compositions. Striking performances abound, the album's eleven songs (the last two being bonus tracks) range from impressively arranged country-tinged rock to moody string-laced ballads, all immaculately produced. Musically, its more upbeat rock tracks fall somewhere between Neil Young and Red House Painters, while its darker ballads have some similar elements but evoke the same emotional response as later SoulWhirlingSomewhere.
Whether they be full-blown, radio-friendly rock outings like the opening "After All is Said & Done, More was Said than Done" or stripped down acoustic guitar affairs like the album's two closing bonus tracks, the more up-tempo rock-oriented tracks found here are more or less universally solid. From the wobbly lead guitar of the aforementioned opener to the impressive layered lead guitar work of "Packing My Bags for Hell", the instrumental arrangements are extremely well done, adding a compelling edge to the material.
While the album's more upbeat offerings are excellent, it's the downbeat songs that make the album. The heartwrenching, cello-accented "I Hate Drama & You're Being Dramatic" is simply beautiful, it and the similar and almost equally lovely "Drown the Villages on the Maine Coast" arguably providing the disc's most striking duo. The moodier, sparser "Barreling Towards Nowhere Like There's No Tomorrow" is also spectacular, featuring a stunning layered male and female vocal delivery, while the album's title track is particularly tear-jerking.
From start to finish, Heller Mason's Minimalist & Anchored is simply stunning, a blend of upbeat americana and rock melancholia with lyrics that are straightforward yet frequently striking. Both technically impressive and highly emotional, it's a release that's certainly worthy of repeated listens.
~ Joshua Heinrich, Grave Concerns

The vocals of Heller Mason's main person, Todd Vandenberg, are tearjerkingly soft and weepy. It leads the way for M & A's thoughtful country-esque slowcore, which measures up to similar artists any day. The cello, piano and trumpet that is scattered over the record fleshes out the mature lyrics and comforting acoustic guitar. Apt for campfires at 1am, or quiet mornings in your kitchen in the country at 5am.
~ Kenyon Hopkin, Advanced Copy

Quite a change of pace for Silber Records. This is a rollicking set of eleven warmly melodic songs cut from a cloth similar to the musical garment worn by Mark Kozelek and his work with Red House Painters. Extreme tenderness, a slow and certain pace, gorgeously harmonic layers of acoustic strings plucked, strummed and bowed, soaring instrumentally and usually backing the tender expressive vocals of Todd Vandenberg of Little Chute, Wisconsin. Heller Mason is Todd’s one man band, but he’s helped out by nine friends on: electric guitars, drums, bass, backing vocals, cello, piano, trumpet, lap steel, and Wurlitzer; all helping to flesh out Todd’s very beautiful musical inventions.
~ George Parsons, Dream Magazine

When I hear the first laidback guitar sounds on “Minimalist & Anchored” my jaw drops. After a few seconds I get goose bumps and within one minute I’m a devoted fan. The sound that Todd Vandenberg aka Heller Mason creates is beautifully serene and warm. The songtexts are perfectly melodramatic and the multi-layered guitar playing – accompanied by sometimes a violin, sometimes a trumpet – is heavenly. All the eleven song are made with passion and devotion. A real personal highlight is ‘Barreling towards nowhere like there is no tomorrow’, but there aren’t any bad songs on this record. Listen for example to songs with characteristic titles like ‘After all is said and done, more was said than done’, ‘Drown the villages on the maine coast’ and ‘So this is how it ends?’
The presented references are The Swans during their “Burning World”-time and Neil Young’s “Harvest”. Personally, I’m very fond of both albums so I was delighted to hear that these were exactly the association I got while listening to Heller Mason. And I have to add one more: the Heller Masons work reminds me a lot of the slow Americana/country by South San Gabriel .
If you’re in the mood for a slow and easy-listening guitar album that’s created with heart and soul, then “Minimalist & Anchored” is a real treat. There is just one question I’d really like to get an answer to: Why change the unusual name Todd Vandenberg into the next unusual name Heller Mason?
~ Gothtronic

Heller Mason’s Minimalist & Anchored is a logical continuation of Silber Records’ predilection for highly articulate, moody singer-songwriter pop with enough folk and country twists to make it difficult to place in any given genre. Contrary to some of the label’s previous releases by folks like Jamie Barnes and Rivulets this is music that despite its sparse tone is based in some rather wide arrangements, including among other things electric guitar, drums, bass, cello, vocals, Wurlitzer, piano and trumpet. The album screens a downcast but kaleidoscopic sound, spanning depressive folk as well as bittersweet slow pop. Not unique but very nice.
~Mats Gustafson, The Broken Face

Heller Mason is more mainstream than most artists on North Carolina's esoteric Silber label. Rather than presenting atmospheric sound or eerie progressive rock, this band plays surprisingly smooth and accessible soft Americana pop. The group is centered around the songwriting skills of Todd Vandenberg...a young man with a soft soothing voice and a real flair for writing meaningful lyrics. The tunes on Minimalist & Anchored are subdued and subtle...and yet there is an odd strength present in the delivery of these compositions. This is the sort of album that was obviously created out of a love of music rather than a desire for commercial success. Vandenberg is certainly on the right track here. These soothing pensive tracks get better the more you hear them. Intriguing cuts include "After All is Said and Done, More Was Said Than Done," "I Hate Drama and You're Being Dramatic," and "So, This is How it Ends?"
~ Babysue

In college, I was voted the most depressing DJ @ WMWM in Salem, Massachusetts. This début album by Heller Mason would have fit in well with my crying in the beer arsenal. During that time I played the heck out of a seven inch by Whiskeytown. The song “The Strip” really got to me. (This was before Ryan Adams became such a jerk. Wait, let me rephrase that, this was before I discovered that Ryan Adams was such a self absorbed asshole). These songs really remind me of that seven inch. They are country tinged, sad & sweet.
I nearly wrote this band off when I went to their Myspace page and saw the dreaded self- applied “Emo” tag. Originally, this term was used only as an insult, and in my opinion, this is the lone way it should be applied. Thankfully, I looked past the grievous error of using such an offensive word and found that I really did enjoy this disc.
Heller Mason is the name of the group and not a person as I first thought. Todd Vandenberg is the main songwriter and vocalist. His vocals have the same warm-hearted quality of Mark Kozelek’s from the Red House Painters. Like the Red House Painters, Vandenberg is clearly influenced by Neil Young’s more acoustic and country-inspired tunes.
Vandenberg has the nasty habit of making one feel old. I still remember listening to Karate sing about being nineteen and not yet being that age. When Vandenberg sings about the sadness and desperation of being in one’s mid-twenties, the problems now seem sweetly quaint.
Some of Vandenberg’s lyrics are cringe worthy, but endearingly so. On “Drown the Villages on the Maine Coast,” he sings, “I got mint tea, mint tea, with honey. But it did not do anything for my throat. All it did was burn my nose.” Fortunately, the slight lyrical missteps are brief. The music it self is fantastic, with sparkling acoustic guitars, swelling violins, wails of steel guitar, and crisp percussion.
Over all this is an excellent debut. The music of Heller Mason is both hopeful and poignant. With time, the band’s music will develop into something wonderful.
~ Dan Cohoon, amplitude equals one over frequency squared

I come from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve lived here for the entire twenty four years of my life, and probably will continue to live here for the rest of my life. My family and friends are here, and there really isn’t anywhere else I’d go in less of course these people came with me. I’ve been an avid music fan since the age of ten, and over these years I’ve often wondered why there are so few notably bands from Wisconsin. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any widely popular or legendary artists to come from this area, but we have some really good bands some of which I’ve known for awhile and some I’ve only discovered in recent years. I enjoy stuff like The Gufs, Rictus Grin, Dark Shift, Lazarus, and now I can happily add Heller Mason to the list of outstanding Wisconsin based bands.
Heller Mason is Todd Vandenberg from Little Chute, Wisconsin along with eleven other genuine musicians. Heller Mason plays a type of music that I find to be really hard to describe, but it’s extraordinarily enjoyable and beautiful sounding. It’s some sort of folk, acoustic, indie, shoegazer, music in the vein of artists like Jamie Barnes, Neil Young, Rivulets, Swans, Nick Drake, and other brilliant singer & songwriter performers. The music can shift from being more upbeat and feel good to more dark and depressive as displayed on a good number of the songs. Naturally I prefer the more depressing songs, but overall the performance is just exquisite. The songs usually consist of lovely acoustic guitars; Todd’s magnificent touching vocals, and the session musicians handling instruments like electric guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet, lap steel, cello, Wurlitzer, and additional vocals. Really exceptional in every aspect of the word, this album is beyond excellent. Songs like ‘I Hate Drama & You're Being Dramatic,’ ‘Drown the Villages on the Maine Coast,’ and ‘Barreling Towards Nowhere Like There’s No Tomorrow’ are my favorites, but the whole album plays out flawlessly despite my ability to completely describe it adequately to you. I suggest you view the bands myspace page and then purchase this stunning album from Silber Records.
Another major highlight for me this year and definitely an album to put the Wisconsin music scene on the map finally. I do know that I’ll be listening to this album a lot in the months and years to come.
~ Joe Mlodik, Lunar Hypnosis

Not experimental at all on the CD by Heller Mason, from Little Chute. Behind this is one Todd Vandenberg (not to be mistaken with that Dutch guy of the same name), who plays guitar and sings. He is helped by a whole bunch of musicians, playing drums, bass, more guitars, piano, trumpet and cello. Apparently he worked for three years on this album, and originally was indeed just his guitar and voice and later on expanded. All good and well, but this singer songwriter stuff is not very much alike what Vital Weekly writes about and that is not a problem, since that happens more. But I simply can't relate to this music at all. It's too soft, not really outspoken and simply too much 'i love you, but you don't love me' lyrics. Not my coffee at all.
~ Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

C'è una generazione di cantautori e cantautrici che sta percorrendo il sentiero intrapreso dai Red House Painters, dai Low e da Will Holdam molti anni fa. Si chiamano Nathan Amundson, Jessica Bailiff, Michael Anderson, Jamie Barnes, etc: musicisti cresciuti con le mani nel postrock ma con la testa nel folk di Neil Young e Nick Drake. Todd Vandenberg si è aggiunto alla lista grazie ad un esordio (a nome Heller Mason) pieno di ballate folkrock melanconiche e avvolgenti. La prima canzone dell'album, “After All Is Said & Done, More Was Said Than Done” trova un passaggio a nord est nel deserto dei Mojave3 verso la California dei Grant Lee Buffalo. “Packing My Bags For Hell” alza il ritmo per un improbabile successo radiofonico, ma già con la successiva “I Hate Drama & You're Being Dramatic” ci si immerge di nuovo nel consueto spleen melanconico che caratterizza tutta questa generazione di cantautori cresciuti nell'era della disillusione. Quando la voce di Vandemberg riecheggia nuda sopra l'arpeggio della sua acustica – come nell'intro della meravigliosa “Barelling Towards Nowhere Like There's No Tomorrow” – il respiro si ferma più volte. Heller Mason è poi capace di cambiare immedatamente registro per proporre un'illusoria fuga dalla realtà (“Sick To Death Of Sobriety”). Per sottolineare la sottile drammaticità della sua musica Todd Vandemberg si fa aiutare da una dozzina di musicisti che si dividono pianoforte, violoncello, wurlitzer, tromba, chitarre, basso e batteria.
~ Roberto Mandolini, Losing Today

Una lacrima per sentirsi vivi
La Silber Records conferma ancora una volta il suo stato di salute nonché il suo fiuto per la musica di qualità producendo il debut album di Heller Mason, progetto solista di Todd Vanderberg.
Sulla scia di Neil Young, Nick Drake, Red House Painters e dei compagni di etichetta Remora, Heller Mason ci propone un sound malinconico in cui folk e rock danno vita a soavi ed intime ballate (spicca per bellezza ‘Packing My Bags For Hell’, un pezzo che da solo vale l’acquisto di ‘Minimalist & Anchored’). L’umore del disco è terribilmente grigio, finemente depresso e terribilmente delicato. Le ballate sono macchiate di umidità scaturita da una incessante pioggia di lacrime figlie di un animo ferito e tormentato che manifesta la sua delusione attraverso un voce malinconica ed un guitarwork interamente acustico. Il sentimento viene poi reso più penetrante mediante l’utilizzo di comparsate melodiche dedite ai più disparati strumenti tra cui il piano, il cello e la tromba. ‘Minimalist & Anchored’ è un disco autunnale, perfetto per chi ama sentirsi cullato da un sound triste e monotematico per rimanere senza fiato.
~ Alessandro Lucentini.

Este disco es una delicia. De lo que más he puesto en el estéreo últimamente.
El toque folk (casi neocountry) en el arranque de After All… y la voz suave, susurrante de Vandenberg acompañando a su guitarra mientras se suben el resto de instrumentos (muy bien logrados) en especial el cello y las guitarras, incluyendo el lap steel convierten a este track en un pasaje obligado en el disco.
En Packing My Bags… el resto de invitados le agregan una vivacidad y alegría al track, creando un cambio de mood que se agradece en el disco, siendo un track muy ligero, válido.
Cuenta la leyenda que el disco comienza con las grabaciones de Vandenberg y su guitarra y en el estudio, entiendo, se fueron agregando el resto de instrumentos. Si esto es así, los músicos restantes hicieron una obra de arte a la par de la composición de Vanderberg. Captaron el sentimiento intimista del autor y lo “agrandaron” quizá haciéndolo más íntimo en varios tracks.
Un ejemplo impactante y buenísimo (de nuevo escuchen el cello de Turner, los coros y en general toda la atmósfera) es I Hate Drama…, uno de mis tracks favoritos. Suave, lento y flotante, con una buena letra.
Drown The Villages… sigue la misma línea que el anterior, quizá un tanto más lejano, ímposiblemente más lento y donde la batería, el bajo y el cello le dan un toque de indie pop del nuevo que bien puede equipararse a varias bandas. Excelente track!
Barreling Towars Nowhere… parecería igual, aunque a veces se antoja que Vandenberg ni siquiera te voltea a ver y está en su sala componiendo sin que nadie lo moleste, ni tú que le escuchas, así de íntimo se oye, una delicia si sabes escuchar esta música (algo que puede quebrarte si andas en un mood melancólico).
Llega Sick To Death… para poner un poco de orden y endulzar e iluminar un poco el mood de las últimas tres canciones en otro track muy country-folk, bueno sin ser el mejor.
Minimalist & Anchored es mi otro track favorito en el disco. Todo está en su lugar, comenzando con el cello, sonidos aludiendo al nombre del track… todo minimalista y bello. Dulce y agridulce. Un agasajo total. El disco que quizá más que los demás (y vaya que esto es un decir) hace que valga la pena acercarse a Heller Mason.
Los bonus tracks se los dejo para que se lleven una agradable sorpresa… aún así como suena Duluth o Fools… hubiese podido también sonar todo el disco… precioso, pero se nota el trabajo impresionante que hizo todo el equipo después de escuchar estos dos tracks.
~ Ciro Velazquez, Eufonia