Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Contrast: The God of Malfunction

The Contrast

The God of Malfunction
Wicked Cool Records

Peterborough, UK's The Contrast have been at it for a while. A power pop band, a little psych, songs written around a Rickenbacker Jetglo 330, but a clean sound that didn't really fit anywhere but power pop, although almost their own category. They always sounded too clean for garage, yet possess a simple, modern jangle that doesn't make one go backwards as most good rock does, but still has it. In a sense, The Contrast exist as a great rock band, but it's hard to make direct points to the lineage except for power pop. However, five great albums on the high quality but niche paisley pop label Rainbow Quartz Records show a high quality catalog that has largely been unrecognized. They chime and have influences, but the sound speaks of rock noir (psych-noir) more than anything.

In their first completely new foray with Wicked Cool Records, front man David Reid and company take their film/pop culture sound a lot further, but the underlying theme of their songs remain the same. It's always been about dysfunctional women, broken relationships, women on the verge that are unreliable but magnetic nonetheless.

The Contrast always had studio sense that took them well out of the garage. There's no mistake that the elements are there: the simple chords, the harmonies, the melodic hooks that draw one in, but the production has always been so clean that many garage fans find a substitution in B-movie imagery of the same era for the garage punk sound. The opening "Underground Ghosts" might be a song from the 2007 album of the same title that never made the cut. Vintage keyboards providing the basic melody in sharp difference to the guitar chord ethos of garage rock, Reid's trademark melodic guitar taking center stage, great vocal harmonies, and of course, a supernatural theme that low budget, vintage film buffs catch on to.

A sure standout track in line with the obscure movie theme is "I Am An Alien" with it's twisting theremin presence and pounding beat, but the theme is not outer worldly. Instead, it touches of the eternal divide in relations of what someone thought you were and what one finds out once they're involved: the divide is too great and the planets are too far apart. "Gone Forever" is the retro groove in nothing but Rickenbacker, Byrds-y jangle that's all classic power pop. The mellotron set on violin gives it a bigger feel and the overall result is a harmonious revelation of an end. The title track is full of parts that make The Contrast so unique, but juxtaposes a boppy chorus with metallic riffs. that make a memorable melody. The equal jangle of "Unexpected" takes on a personal note that's familiar territory for The Contrast, but it's simplicity and twist between a softer take that's replete with strong drumming lives up to its title.

Brit rock/pop has always taken American rock influences and turned them upside down. Therefore, most of us have a soft spot for the "sensibility" in care that good British rock from the '60s to now has taken. In a sense, The Contrast have always had this sensibility that matches bands like The Kinks in being polished and harmonious but focusing on angst. "She's A Disaster" is a perfect accomplishment on these levels with guitar lead and keyboard melodies that hook one in but simultaneously idolize the familiar yet traumatizing theme of the beautiful girl (or boy) who's presence is so strong that it dominates, but that strength is wrought out of so much pain that it presents both fear and longing with lyrics like "Her words are charge with hidden games, her makeup's going up in flames right now" only to be followed by "She's in my head from my distant past and future."

The closing "False Ambition" is no less intriguing in its depth and angst, added piano which not necessarily adds to the depth of the song since their songs have always relied on guitar led melodic hooks, but providing the piano background allows a larger breathing room where Reid builds a stronger climax to the simpler hooks of the rest of the album and their catalog, for that matter.

The Contrast has an illustrious catalog to being with. It's full of simple, jangle but '80s angst mixed with a strong polish. The God of Malfunction is a standout in stretching out the guitar hooks and trying some new things. The big difference with the earlier catalog is that the music slows down more as if bridging the gap to other alternative genres, namely dark, postpone Brit Pop. As if a predictor to this change, the original version of 2000's "Perfect Disguise" touched upon this expansion.

The God of Malfunction is overall, a great album, but it's full of challenges for the ''60s garage faithful. It's probably the farthest thing from garage, yet it shares many strong elements with those elements, adds in bad horror films, alienation and angst, but the biggest departure and new foray into power pop is the guitar hooks making the melody instead of the melody over the chords, which is more common for garage rock. Essentially, The Contrast have always made incredible, jangling, harmonious music that twisted up psych/garage roots with '80s angst. They've always been extremely polished. The juxtaposition is trademark for The Contrast. They are a new era of power pop with elements drawn to make their music a life of its own that presents contradictions and constant reconsiderations.

The God of Malfunction is available in a wide variety of formats, including vinyl, at Wicked Cool Records

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Free download version of the new Grip Weeds album coming soon!

The dawn of Strange Change Machine is approaching! Follow the link and sign up for the fan club to get a free download version of the new Grip Weeds album, which will be available as a free download VERY soon! All you need to do is enter your email address!

The Grip Weeds

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crank In The Summer With Thunderbolt Patterson

Thunderbolt Patterson
The LP Is Dead
No Fun Records

The seemingly endless cycle of snowstorms, icestorms, and being stuck indoors has finally come to an end. The sun is peaking out and warming the pavement all over the country. What does that mean? It's time for some top down, wind in your hair, rock 'n' roll! It's time for Thunderbolt Patterson's new album The LP Is Dead and it's loud, power chord hooks that are too good to sit inside with. If you know "Rockaway Beach", then you'll dig into "Almost Summer" on the way there with Ramonesish guitars and Beach Boys harmonies.

Leave it to an original NY '70s punk to take things backwards to its simplest elements. Chords, hooks, loud, fun, take the top down, simple punk powerpop, with some exceptional drumming on tracks like "Dynamo" with the accompaniment "Remember being parked outside your house, and I spilled a 40 all over your blouse." Ahhh, memories! Don't worry, the act is not being glorified. "Dynamo" is more about Patterson making fun of himself.

The title track is a catchy sing-a-long lament (??) about short term attention spans and the devaluation of media. We've heard the theme. Nothing new, but this version's a lot more fun! The follow up "On and On" is the same: catchy, but with some groovy, soul keyboards. Ok, this isn't rocket science, but we need simple fun. We need loud, simple, fun sing alongs again. However, this album is too much fun to hear in the background. The songs make you want to stomp your feet, crank it up, go outside, and throw/crash a party. "Getting Out" rocks in the way that makes you pick up the air guitar and throw out Guitar Hero (I sincerely hope none of you own that).

If The LP Is Dead with its throw back to simplicity (and this review, for that matter) come across as an "I remember the good old days" moan, consider the fact that great rock 'n' roll for the past 40 years has been deconstruction. Garage, punk, and the flavors that came out of it were created out of stripping things down and going back to the beginning. The good shit always steps into the future by looking backwards, but who else but the drummer for The Dictators to remind us that this is supposed to be fun, and what's fun without a party anthem? How about "When you could use a little leverage, all you need is one beverage" from "One Beverage."

11 tracks of loud punk/powerpop with solid guitar and drum punches. Some occasional wailing metal solos for your hesher buddies on "On The Tip", but your pals will also be singing along until they realize you caught them. The closing "Four Pair" nearly approaches Southern Rawk in its guitarosity.

Tracks like "Hand Grenade Around My Heart" should not be listened to in confined spaces like airplanes. The LP Is Dead is too much fun to listen to in closed quarters. Either wait until the party or vacation starts unless you're heading down the highway with the top down.

This is essential Spring/Summer listening.

The LP Is Dead is available from your local indie record store and directly from the only label that rocks enough to have Thunderbolt, No Fun Records.