As a modern progressive act, The Contortionist have managed to really make a name for themselves in a relatively short time. Their first album, Exoplanet, is widely revered as their seminal work, with some real grit and heaviness to it. Their subsequent albums have toned down the aggression considerably, but have still received a fair bit of interest and support for their diverse compositions and unique tone. Their most recent release prior to Clairvoyant, Language, has allowed them to reach a much wider audience and larger fan base. However, this musical shift has been a point of contention in regards to the quality of the composition and performance of their music. Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum – or if this is your first foray into the world of The Contortionist – this album is easily one of the higher profile releases of the year.
Joining us for the review we have Landon, Pete, Inter, and myself (Tyler). With our roundtable today, we touch on how Clairvoyant fares as a work of modern prog, and how it sits in relation to their previous albums. For our full thoughts you can listen to our discussion on the sixth edition of the It Djents Podcast, or read a summary of our thoughts on the album below. Be sure to share your hopes or thoughts on the album in the comments!
Descriptors like ‘lush’ and ‘atmospheric’ find their way into more progressive music reviews than I can count, and I know that I contribute to this problem. However, these adjectives could not be more accurately used than in describing the sound of Clairvoyant, The Contortionist’s upcoming release. Jamie King’s masterful production may have never been used more effectively than here, lending clarity, space and warmth to this record’s multi-faceted layers of pianos, synths, acoustic and electric guitars, huge drums and ethereal vocals.
I have never felt that The Contortionist seek to write songs as much as to create a sonic experience – a meditation guided by sound. With the enthralling synths, flowing guitar lines and spacey arrangements, The Contortionist may have never accomplished this goal more effectively than on Clairvoyant. Key/synth player Eric Guenther is a central element of this experience. Even though this album is far more about an overall flow than individual songs, tracks like “Reimagined” and “Relapse” are some of the catchiest, most mature songs I have heard from The Contortionist.
Although this album is dense, lush and layered in a way that makes for an immersive listen, its meditative tone also lacks the dynamic contrasts of previous The Contortionist material. Because of the cohesiveness of the album, it can be easy to lose track of one’s place within it, creating a sense of ambiguity or similarity in the record’s progression. As such, repeated listens may reveal further detail, but are not particularly rewarding. Trading compelling contrast for meditative flow has made for a unique but not especially engaging album.
Personal Score: 7/10
I really used to love The Contortionist. As it stands, I feel that their current direction is not only boring, but wholly indifferent to the real reason they became so popular – their talent for sculpting an incredible contrast between light and dark music. Fans (and indeed many other bands) marveled at the way they tore from heavy deathcore-esque riffs into soaring, euphoric post-rock riffs. With Clairvoyant however, what we see is a very different story. Gone is the contrast in songs, with the whole band offering a very monotonic variation of Language. Gone are the euphoric moments, along with the roar of their overtuned guitars, which I considered their signature sound. Looking back through their catalogue, it’s immediately obvious that this is The Contortionist, but now twisted and bent beyond recognition into a post-rock/metal mess, which has no real senses of direction.
As you’ll hear on the accompanying podcast, I found Michael Lessard’s vocals to be the weakest part of the album. Dreary, meaningless lyrics combined with slow, weak vocals make this album drag on. I feel like getting to the final track on Clairvoyant is like chewing through an overcooked rump steak. My favourite track is undoubtedly the first, “Monochrome (Passive)”, on which Lessard doesn’t feature at all. More akin to songs like “Holomovement” or “Language I: Intuition”, the song has elements of the aforementioned contrasts. However, this is the last real time you hear anything interesting in my opinion, as the rest of the songs struggle to stand out against one another.
Time and again I woke up to “Primal Directive” auto-playing on my device after Clairvoyant had dragged its way to the finish line. I’ve instantly deleted the album from my devices, and I shall not be entertaining it any longer. This will be one of the polarizing albums of the year for many, but I hope our readers can find more in it then what I could.
Personal Score: 4/10
I remember my first listening of Clairvoyant. I was suprised, since I’m not the biggest fan Language. I liked what I’ve heard! Sadly, my euphoria was just brief, and quickly turned into an unpleasant bitterness.
First of all, as a preventive scheme: no, I’m not someone who wishes to get Exoplanet 2.0. I respect and appreciate the band for searching their vision, trying new things and nurturing new directions and soundscapes. My problem with Language was more about the ratio between the attempt and the actual accomplishment. A similar problem appeared on Clairvoyant, but with a signifcantly different outcome.
The album (and the band itself) seems to be torn between creating a meditative, progressive ambience and being accessible. There are a lot of bands out there which realized within their music that progressivity and accessibility aren’t necessarily two different things, and that you can create a homogenous artistic vision out of it, created in the shape of symbiosis. The Contortionist struggle to find their balance, leading to only a handful of high points against a lot of boring and bland moments, in which either forgettable vocal lines, formulaic arrangements, the absence of intriguing melodies or, in the worst case, a culmination of all those points make the album not interesting enough to listen to again, or create any urge to deal with its deeper meanings.
It’s not a bad album at all, but it’s also not noteworthy and wouldn’t be recognized without the name on the cover. For me, The Contortionist have to find a better balance and maybe a clearer delivery of their artistic vision, to be interesting for me in the future. Fans of Language may also enjoy Clairvoyant, but if you’re searching for a consistent and consequent progression and a strong artistic vision, you might be better off with another album.
Personal Score: 5/10
With Clairvoyant, The Contortionist seem to be struggling with not only the weight of their previous success, but a clear direction in the style of music they are attempting to make. It’s unfortunate that my main takeaway from the record is simply that there isn’t much to take away. There is a fair level of competent musicianship and a number of moments in which it almost reaches greatness, but most of it meanders and fails to evoke a strong response. The lack of engagement is partially due to Lessard’s vocal direction; however, I feel as if they mixing/production on the record is what sealed the deal.
As I stated in the audio portion of the review, if this album were released by any one other band than this, it would fall by the wayside and be quickly forgotten. Irrespective of their previous successes and influential releases, this album simply doesn’t manage to draw the listener in and often felt like a chore to get through. With a stronger musical direction, a more definitive contrast of elements, and perhaps a different approach to the vocals, this could have been a much stronger record. As it stands now, it feels more like a set of weak demos, with a few strong ideas that fall just shy of being really good.
Personal Score: 5/10
Overall Score: 5.5/10
Notable Tracks: “Monochrome (Passive)”; “Reimagined”; “Godspeed”
FFO: Foes, Karnivool, Anathema
You can get The Contortionist‘s albums – including preorders for Clairvoyant – through Good Fight’s Bandcamp and Website. Be sure to follow their Facebook and Twitter to keep up on tour and release news as it happens!