16th September 2014 - eOne/Good Fight Music
01. The Source
02. Language I: Intuition
03. Language II: Conspire
06. Primordial Sound
08. Ebb & Flow
09. The Parable
Throughout their modest career so far, Indianapolitan sextet The Contortionist have been both benefactors and victims of their own success. Debut album Exoplanet left many foaming from various orifices, but some sections felt that follow-up Intrinsic failed to live up to its predecessor. I never really got the hype around either, but with third album Language, the band have landed on a sound exuding maturity, craftsmanship and above all: beauty.
As long-time purveyors of wibbly-wobbly, spacey-wacey prog, The Contortionist always excelled at creating dense, atmospheric soundscapes. This technique has been honed to a tee, and is never more apparent that in the opening trifecta of songs. Introductory track “The Source” is so incredibly chilled. Dreamy, aquatic ambient tones are packed around a focal piano, yet everything feels like it is given room to breathe. The lush tones of a picked guitar wash into the calming vocals of new frontman Michael Lessard, who croons vocals patterns and lyrics only barely understandable as actual words. Only the track’s crisp, final line makes any real sense, and it feels like a statement of intent: “a wave of intuition washed over me.” The Contortionist are going by gut on this record; it’s organic and unrushed, taking its time to explore ideas and mould them into their own…well, language.
Follow-up pairing “Language I: Intuition” and “Language II: Conspire” are honestly ten of the best minutes of progressive songwriting I’ve heard all year – particularly the first half, which is resplendent with groove, emotion, and the absolute pleasure that is The Contortionist in full flow. Each instrument exerts its own influence over the direction of the track; the bass is warm and resonant, plucked out by the ever-talented production of Jamie King, and it flirts with the guitars whilst the unfussy drums keep time across an ever-evolving landscape, changing time signature and dropping beats and neat little floruishes left, north, down and a that really hard to reach spot in the middle of your back.
Lessard’s talents are well known to fans of this style of multi-layered prog metal – his tenure as vocalist for purveyors of the digital Last Chance To Reason bore countless succulent fruits – and here he adds an air of ethereality to whatever he touches with his densely-layered harmonic vocals. He can and does turn on the growl when called to – sometimes usung both styles in tandem – but his true deftness lies in his heady cleans, which are surreptitious; worming their way into your ears with the delicacy of a lover’s kiss.
Comparisons with Cynic are easily made – the light/dark dynamic of the record; the timbre and intensity of the throaty screams; the feeling of weightlessness it gives you – but there are myriad other nods and influences. Robby Baca and Cameron Maynard’s guitars on “Primordial Sound” ape that of Jeff Buckley‘s “Mojo Pin“, whilst Jordan Eberhardt’s bass lines move much like those of Between The Buried And Me‘s Dan Briggs. “Thrive” has a very Blade Runner-esque synth that pops up towards its closing passage while “Ebb & Flow” opens with an 80s-ish video gamey section. It all adds to the flavour and texture of the record.
Language‘s dialect – Lessard’s lyrics themselves – feel more like a vehicle for concepts than storytelling; words and fragments swirl rather than full sentences and narrative. This feels less self-indulgent, less personal, and more suited to the spacey, proggy style. There are strong themes running throughout though: intuition, sonic manipulation, and the ebb and flow of life and language. Many are more than a little catchy, and you will want to sing along.
The record is by no means perfect. Sometimes its accent is a little hard to understand, or its grammar a little off – there are perhaps sections where it wanders off into self-indulgence, which is not for everyone and can be a turn-off – but Language is a bonafide grower; that one last summer bloom before the colder months take hold and the cold winds blow melancholy and introspection our way. Its syntax is pure poetry and its core is warm and pleasant to the ear. If The Contortionist can take this formula to the next level, they’ll surely have others clamouring to talk in their tongue.