The Contortionist – ‘Clairvoyant’ (Album Review)
In an age of constant content overload, it’s become increasingly difficult to create something that truly stands on its own. So much has been done before; so much has already been done to staggeringly high standards. Still, with 2014’s Language the Contortionist pulled off the near impossible.
Listen back further to 2012’s Intrinsic and 2010’s Exoplanet, and you’ll see how far the Contortionist leapt on Language. Over time, their fusion-flavoured influences crowded out the Contortionist’s heavy side until the results became mellower, more soulful, even ambient. Language was ultimately an uplifting prog album with strong shades of metal spliced in at just the right moments.
Now, close to three years after Language saw the light of day and peaked just outside of the American Top 50, Clairvoyant is here. Anyone anticipating another dramatic departure will end up either disappointed or ecstatic – but really, the fact that the Contortionist have slightly slowed their rate of evolutionary progress is a good thing. Given that we live in a constant state of future shock, Clairvoyant affords listeners a sense of space, the opportunity to pause for breath and actually soak in the surroundings revealed in such delicate detail on Language.
Those surroundings were, are, and remain spectacular – and the way Clairvoyant’s tracks unfold is immeasurably gratifying. From the moment Monochrome (Passive) bursts into washes of hyperdistorted chords, it’s immediately evident that the Contortionist are comfortable drawing in small measures from their pre-Language days, while an underlying synth melody maintains a sense of sky-searching anticipation. The Contortionist could not make it any clearer that they are more comfortable in their own skins than ever before.
When I briefly discussed Clairvoyant with Contortionist keyboardist Eric Guenther during this interview, he mentioned that the Contortionist had spent the Clairvoyant sessions learning to favour their collective strengths. That aim (and its successful achievement) comes through loud and clear throughout this album. There’s zero sense of any egotistical attempt at sonic domination on the part of any one member; it’s an obvious group effort, with every component pulling in the same direction.
Through unity, there can be harmony – and even during its most dissonant moments, that rule underpins Clairvoyant for its entire duration. Godspeed proves an accessible song despite so many internal complexities; Reimagined could almost be mistaken for a Nine Inch Nails track in places; title track Clairvoyant pulls hard in the direction of prog-metal-fusion familiarity, vocals sharing sonic space with waves of gritty downtuned guitars; and The Center combines overdriven arpeggios with perfect bass/drum synchronisation. Each song feels grown, cultivated, and nurtured rather than pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The same goes for Clairvoyant’s remaining tracks. Absolve is another sparkling fusion groover; Relapse is driven by Guenther’s synthesizers, bordering on post-Kraftwerk synth-pop before the rest of the band enter; and Return To Earth’s intro evokes Animals As Leaders, with more monolithic chords and satisfying dynamic shifts around the corner. Then, just to top it all off, there’s Monochrome (Pensive).
Only ten minutes.
Well…nine minutes and twenty-four seconds. But still.
Although it’s always been normal for prog bands to stretch far beyond the three-to-five-minute mark, it’s always worth bearing in mind that going that far and making it work is not an achievement to be glossed over or taken lightly. A few unnecessary notes, a few seconds of profligacy, and you’re headed for the retrospective bin reserved for the self-indulgent. Monochrome (Pensive)’s dreamlike vibe may also be standard fare as far as album closers go, but bear in mind where the Contortionist come from and listen to this one closely.
Then listen to it again.
And then back to the start of the album itself.
You don’t need to be a clairvoyant to foresee plenty of listeners doing exactly that.
LTK RATING: 94% (Essential Listening!)
What do you think of the Contortionist and Clairvoyant? Leave a comment, follow me on Twitter, and let me know!
Clairvoyant drops September 15; pre-order it on iTunes here.