In the music industry, staying relevant can be a challenge. Some bands go around in circles and recycle old ideas, ending up sounding pretty much the same with every subsequent release. Other bands interpret the whole concept of circle of progression as a circle of life for the band – start out relatively experimental or heavy, before eventually selling out and becoming mainstream. For The Contortionist however, they’re playing the circle game quite differently, and they’ve played it well, as evident on their latest release, Clairvoyant.
Following up 2014’s critically-acclaimed Language is no mean feat. The album was the band’s most ambitious up to that point, featuring haunting vocals over angular yet ethereal melodies, almost like being dragged into a never-ending meditative state. Conceptually and sonically, Clairvoyant completes that circle. The lyrics continue the concepts present in Language (Language is basically about one’s love for a mother who is dying, while Clairvoyant deals with the pain of losing that mother). But it’s the sound that is the biggest surprise here.
The Contortionist has never been a band to do the same thing twice, constantly experimenting and pushing the envelope. The shift towards almost completely clean vocals was expected, but the change in genre towards a more ambient, post-rock sound is a welcome surprise. And they do it very well. From the very first notes of opening track “Monochrome (Passive)” to the piano glimmers of “Godspeed”, it’s a surprise that the same band that produced heavy numbers such as “Sollipsis” can come up with something as driving and as pretty as the tracks on Clairvoyant.
It’s not just the instrumentation which make the album shine, but also the approach towards every instrument. Despite being deceptively simple at first listen, the bass really grooves and drives songs, especially on songs like “Relapse” and the single “Reimagined”. It’s unexpected coming from their bassist, who used to play in the highly technical instrumental band Scale the Summit, but it’s a warm welcome on Clairvoyant. The keyboard work on this album also shines, as it doesn’t overly dominate the songs and adds the right mood at the right time throughout the song.
However, this album isn’t without its drawbacks. The mixing isn’t the best, as the guitars are sometimes too bright, and sometimes they sound too muffled that you can’t really hear what’s going on. The other major detractor is how the vocals are mixed and arranged, which is such a pity because the lyrics are simple, yet very powerful. The vocals sound almost like it’s being sung from under a blanket, mix-wise, and they sound restrained. Michael Lessard is a gifted singer, but he doesn’t seem to be exploring his wide range on Clairvoyant.
Despite the drawbacks, Clairvoyant is definitely an enjoyable album, and it’s one that will grow on you. It’s an album that makes its biggest impact when listened to as a whole rather than individually. It’s certainly a big risk to experiment with a brand new sound after establishing a critically-acclaimed one back in 2014, but if the current performance and sales of Clairvoyant were to be an indicator (#6 Billboard Hard Music and #31 Billboard Current Top 200), the effort has certainly paid off.
Recommended tracks: “Godspeed”, “Reimagined”, “Clairvoyant” “Relapse”, “Monochrome (Pensive)”