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

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