The gentle gaze of encouraging track “Early Grave” was my enticement to review The Contortionist‘s Our Bones EP. There’s something spellbinding about the Indianapolis based band, which features Michael Lessard (vocals), Robby Baca (guitar), Cameron Maynard (guitar), Jordan Eberhardt (bass), Eric Guenther (keyboards), and Joey Baca (percussion). Our Bones follows on from the band’s Clairvoyant album, which released in 2017.
Acting as both a foreshadowing and maybe a warning to adjust listener expectations, Lessard is quoted as saying that Our Bones is a departure from the band’s previous use of overarching interconnected themes. He said that the release “offered an opportunity to dive into some things we haven’t had a chance to explore and the shorter EP format allowed us to be hyper-focused on each song.” The EP includes a cover of Smashing Pumpkins‘ megahit “1979” as well as three original tracks.
Turbulent and reminding me of ripples scattering over water, EP opener “Follow” lands with a sigh of defeat and a stunning layered soundscape of tension. It’s a dense and tense share from The Contortionist, where the protagonist seemed to have done everything that they could. In this learning, they ended up with the literally screamed realisation that “We’re all just figurative ghosts”. Though “Follow” could be the EP’s title track with its lyrical reference to “They’ve got us by our bones”, I later learned that “our bones” shows up in other ways over the course of the EP’s 14 minutes.
“Follow” is a piece of music that feels tightly wound based on how much it feels like it aspires to share and how patiently the threads of information are actually delivered. I appreciate its shifts between calmly measured observations and peaks of frustration with what’s not being noticed. The fluidity of the song continues despite its erratic instrumental blazes, such as at the bridge. There’s something soothing and smooth in the vocal quality of Lessard, even when something soberingly serious is being shared.
Lead single and second song “Early Grave” carries the same fluidity and soothing energy, even when a swaying sense of lack of grip washes through the track. Weighty bass melds with guitar exclamation points, before the chorus allows for floating more than flailing.
Devoted to fans who’ve shared their darkest stories with The Contortionist, “Early Grave” finds a beautiful sweet spot of understanding and encouragement to stay strong. The monotone vocal of “Don’t sink, don’t sink” seeps into my ears as a mantra alongside one’s hurt being seen and acknowledged. It’s compassionate support without condescension and due to how powerful this alone can be, I’m glad that the song was created.
Though I’ve no head for music production nor instrumental skill, I do have a head for appreciating the full emotive scene that has been created with “Early Grave” with all of its effects, layers, instrumental warmth, and determination. They’ve managed to capture the loss of control in the depths of overwhelm and also the breathy acoustic closeness and quiet of being with trusted confidante. To me, this is a gift of a song that can be returned to in dark times, with the offer a sliver of hope and peace to come. I can’t think of a purpose that’s more important than this when it comes to the creation of music.
The mostly instrumental “All Grey” comes across as a remembrance and a moment of fondness. Gentle and light runs of melody match ripples of goosebumps that settle down into stronger tones and piano. Though there’s not a lot to say, I appreciate the daydream-esque connection beyond what’s in the present moment.
Hearkening back to my own youth, it’s a pleasure to see The Smashing Pumpkins honoured with a modern day cover of “1979”. Knowing the original intimately due to overplaying it when it released, The Contortionist have done a brilliant job with the cover. Making it their own, I adore the greater gentleness that’s naturally present due to Lessard’s voice in comparison to Billy Corgan’s more nasal tone and its blunter edges. The heartwarming and carefree energy is here with light melodies and waves of backing vocals sweeping over. In short, it’s a beautiful rendition and also clearly ties in to the EP ‘theme’ with the lyric of “And we don’t know / Just where our bones will rest”.
Though The Contortionist say they’ve not worked in an overarching theme, Our Bones seems to tell a story of life and death from different angles: The tense attempts to find our own way in “Follow”, the encouragement to persist in “Early Grave”, a moment of memory in “All Grey”, and “1979” seems to tie it all together in musing on the carefree times of youth and wondering what’s ahead – continuing with joy despite the bleakness. Through our lifetime, our bones are with us from birth through to our later manipulations, depressions and affections. This framework we exist within is something of a companion or maybe even a cage, and suddenly I realise I’ve never really thought about my bones that much until now.
“Follow” and “Early Grave” are the obvious ‘meat’ to this meal, with both taken to their limits with effects and sleek musicianship to share their message. But I’m unfortunately left still hungry for more, and I’m unsure if repeat listens would be enough to satisfy that. I can’t know the band’s plans or ideas, but I feel like Our Bones needed something more to not feel like just a creative stop along the way. I don’t want to dismiss the potential value of this though (healthy creativity MUST allow for freedom of play and experimentation), so I’ll keep a perspective that assumes The Contortionist know what they’re doing after 10 years as a band. I’m very happy they’ve allowed us into the world of Our Bones, and I’m keen for whatever lies ahead.
A delectable snack when I could easily have a five course meal of The Contortionist.
Alluring songs that are easy to spend time with. The Contortionist work brilliantly in sharing their sentiments as one fluid entity.