Contortionist: Demo (2012)

Bio (from dirtcultureltd.wordpress.com and contortionist.bandcamp.com):
Contortionist started as a two piece in the winter of 2011 by N. Alimonti and E. Gamlem. They played three shows and recorded a demo by May, 2012. In June of 2012 they added Bassist D. Bringman to the fold. Post Punk Noise Trio from Albuquerque New Mexico.

Musicians:
E. Gamlem (Guitar/Vocals), N. Alimonti (Drums), D. Bringman (Bass)

Contortionist’s DEMO was one of those albums that really had a feeling out period for me.  Months ago, upon the first listen to DEMO, I was really unimpressed.  It just didn’t do anything for me.  The lyrics were hard to understand, the music was nothing that really stood out to me, and overall it just didn’t grab my attention.  A month or two later I gave it another listen, and the second time around I was more involved in the experience.  The music sounded different from that first preview, more raw, more visceral, and the lyrics were still hard to completely comprehend, but what I did understand made me realize that Contortionist has something important to say, that the lyrics served more of a purpose than just being there.  When DEMO was coming up on my list as the next thing to review, I gave it a few more listens from beginning to end, and by this point it had grown on me; the noise was there, but I realized its refinement, the lyrics were more apparent and were obviously important, DEMO was not the same album I listened to months ago.

Almonti and Gamlem perform their second show, at Winning Coffee Co. in Albuquerque

Contortionist lists themselves as “Post Punk Noise” and while I can hear that, I hear more as well and I think this label may keep them from some audience that would otherwise miss them.  Sure some of the tracks are punk, and most of the tracks are noisy, but more than anything, I hear heavy rock in line with Fugazi, Prong, or BETTY-era Helmet.  For whatever reason, DEMO really reminds me of “Tic” or “Wilma’s Rainbow,” but less easily accessible; don’t get me wrong, Contortionist does not sound like Helmet, but they make me think of Helmet… hard to explain.  DEMO has a really nice ability to switch from heavily overdriven rock with screamed vocals to a lighter but no less pungent attack.

Musically, I grew to really enjoy DEMO.  There is a very cool interplay between heavy and light, and it’s not just a bunch of power chords over and over again.  There is a arty, Sonic Youth or Tortoise-like playfulness to the guitar; at times its heavy as hell, droning on and on and beating you down, while at other times it is a nice light riff that does a really nice job of counterbalancing the weight from before.  The drums really cement the weight of the tracks, they thunder down on the listener on the heavy bits and back off of the lighter times.  On DEMO I do believe that Contortionist was still a two-piece, as I am not hearing any bass to speak of.

Contortionist’s logo… this may be the founding of a cult. Beware!

Lyrically I’m torn.  I have a hard time understanding most of what Gamlem is saying; that may be the recording quality, but I think it’s more of the delivery.  He varies between screaming, speaking, singing, and occasionally growling, and I personally have a tough time understanding a lot of what is going on.  The lyrics to the five songs included on DEMO are listed on the Dirt Culture Ltd. page, as well as some explanations about their origins, which I was glad to see.  The little bits I could pick up on my own here and there made me think that Contortionist had something deep to say.  “No human is / more human than” repeats the chorus of “More Human,” and this mantra was the first little bit that made my ears perk up and made me think there was something important being screamed at me.  In actually reading the lyrics, I find that they are often very dark (“When self doubt stops by / and yellow desert skies turn grey / you may gouge out the eyes / to let the darkness settle in” sings Gamlem on “Your Eyes”), sometimes silly and playful (“This is the first / I mean fuck it / this is the first verse I’ll fuck up” he sings on “Spaceman Spiff Rides Again”), but less often deep (“Sick like a mother / pregnant with baby / a child with cancer that she’ll never heal / she’ll never hold” from “Sick Dog”) than I first assumed.  The majority of the lyrics presented in DEMO read more like angry poetry than words to a traditional “song,” but don’t discount that as some of the best lyrics ever written don’t sound like they should be sung.

E. Gamlem is surprised to see you here!

Overall, there were a lot of things I learned to enjoy on DEMO; at first I did not get or like the album, but it most definitely grew on me.  Musically it is a really interesting presentation of noise and grooves, and I am interested to see now that Contortionist is a three-piece and has more time under their collective belt as a band how that sound grows and changes.  There is a really cool basis for a sound that is reminiscent of some bands I know, but still quite original in its own right, and I think it will likely only get better.  I think I would have liked DEMO a lot more if I could understand more of what was being said, as I am not too much into the whole screaming and growling thing, but to each their own.  DEMO is a very interesting first release from a very interesting project, and I look forward to seeing how this band matures musically and lyrically.

Overall 6.5 / 10

DEMO for sale: http://contortionist.bandcamp.com

DEMO site: http://dirtcultureltd.wordpress.com/

Contortionist: Demo
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