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Contraption Distoria

Contraption Distoria

by 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.

Contraption Distoria

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.

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RESPONSES (22)
  1. auntmavis says:

    Neaderthal ? … how about trying spell check!

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  2. Roger Young says:

    Thanks. But there’s no need to be so passive-aggressive about it. Maybe you should get this album and chill out to it a little bit.

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  3. mountdavis says:

    Passive-aggressive? That’s one heck of a diagnosis based on so little evidence.

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  4. Andy says:

    Mount Davis has a certain ring to it!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Finally, an actual review for a change.

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  6. Andy says:

    And it was I who missed the typo! I take full responsibility for not running spell check.

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  7. jezebel says:

    “ur-folk” oh roger. you’re so uriginal! i do love your moments of mad magic.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    awsome review,amazing musician

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  9. Have a think says:

    Ne-fucking-anderthal

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  10. Have a think says:

    Just pulling your leg Roger, keen to give this album a listen!

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  11. Paul says:

    Nice review, it was a great show. And I bought the album, loving it. Gary Thomas is probably the best singer/ guitarist in the country.

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  12. Bianca::: says:

    He must be good if Roger Young reviewed him positively 🙂

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  13. Lizzy says:

    will check out the durban gig. looks like gary has become a ‘serious musician’, good for him…

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  14. Whyno? says:

    First you rely on spell check?!? Excellent journalism practice, NOT! Second, is it really necessary to turn some really good music into the most pretentious sounding garb I have ever come across? Come on, less is more people, a little lesson Thomas himself portrays in his one man band brilliance!

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  15. Roger Young says:

    Apparently I don’t rely on spell checks at all. But you seem to rely on outworn Wayne’s World catch phrases.

    Anyway. Here’s a review for Whyno?

    Gary Thomas is the shit. Just trust me.

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  16. syd willow says:

    i love the mahala comment wall. its more interesting than the writing sometimes.

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  17. Gregg says:

    Nice review & must throw my 2 cents in that this album and musician are something rare and special and I would not hesitate to recommend that you go out right now and buy this album.

    If you can, also get your hands on his debut album “Wooden Boxes & Thought Hunting” as it too is amazing. Linking to a blog post my brother wrote on this http://neil.iaminawe.com/2007/10/23/gary-thomas/

    Love love love the energy, emotion and authentic sound this man has. So proud to see his work breaking new ground & hope he gets the recognition he deserves.

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  18. syd willow says:

    roger you rock!

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  19. Tara says:

    Its so nice to live in the same country as this musician and be able to access his album and live performance as easily.

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  20. […] each other. Is that an accurate assumption? Did you have a very competitive relationship with Gary Thomas? Why did you break […]

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  21. ine says:

    Gary Thomas is a fucking genius. On the top five most amazing and original musicians in the country. Too sad that we dont hear of him more often.

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  22. Midge McCleary says:

    Love this Album..one of my favourites. I lisiten to it all the time. When are you coming to NZ to play some shows?

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