Contraption Distoriaby Roger Young, image by Danielle Clough / 17.08.2010
Gary Thomas strains his neck and clenches his teeth toward the ceiling, wringing guttural moaning sounds into his songs. He’s knocking out a beat with his foot on the stomp box, veins pop on his blurry hands as he, like a sensitive Neanderthal on Ritalin, wrestles from his acoustic guitar his cyclical, grand, wrenching and understated ur-folk. The first five rows of the audience are captivated, the others talk in the background, not getting into it, filling the gaps in the song with inane chatter. We were sitting in front of a display of guitar mastery and a good chunk of the audience wasn’t even aware of it. It makes me want to stand up and tell them to shut the fuck up or get out. But it might kill the mood down front. The audience can’t be entirely blamed; they’re restless. Thomas’s Contraption Distoria album launch at Alliance Française started late and the opening act, Andy Jameson (Thomas’s former band mate in Cabins in the Forest, who joined him halfway into his set for some of that old Cabins hypnotic magic), played in a style that must have felt, to the casual observer, like a more tempered version of Thomas’s, thereby rendering Thomas’s set as more of the same. But such is the measured force with which Thomas attacks his guitar, thumping and tapping percussion out of it, that it takes his music into an entirely different space. It’s not “difficult” music by any standards but you do have to take a step toward its quiet power. It may be internal and nuanced, basic and driving but it’s not going to come looking for you.
Early on the album itself “Stone Thrower” sets the mood, starting gently but soon building up through a series of dips and pace increases into a plaintive consolation. “Gargantu-um”, with it’s sparse vocals, shows off Thomas’s psychedelic virtuoso skill, accelerating from the get-go. “The Inventor” rollicks from a slow tide into a wailing and snapping chorus. “Be That As It May” drifts between haunting and pleading. “The Assassin Sat and Pondered” spaces out, getting airy without losing pace. “AWDFH” whirls high and wild with Thomas seemingly playing two guitar parts at once. In places during “Arcane Forest” his voice tocks like a metronome, then against the sparking guitar echo’s into the distance, “Can you hear that sound, the silence is deafening and falling like leaves on the ground, don’t tread too far from the path, I swear these trees are watching me, but I’m watching them”.
Throughout the album Thomas builds soundscapes with the shapes of the lyrics, giving it a chilling emotional landscape. His guitar and percussion work is often spellbinding even if you don’t know that he’s doing it all himself. If it has any flaws it’s that some of the songs can feel too similar to others (mainly because of the sparse production and comparable tempos) even if they are structured entirely differently. And while Contraption Distoria lacks some of the immediacy of Thomas’s live performances, it’s made up for in the process of discovering its nuances.
For Album Launch dates countrywide see Thomas’s Facebook
* Opening image © Danielle Clough. Album artwork by Colwyn Thomas.