Review Summary: Rising from an early grave
It's hard not to think of Our Bones
as a reset button for The Contortionist. Their last LP, 2017's Clairvoyant
, proved to be divisive in that it signified the band's complete excision of its deathcore roots in favour of something resembling just straight up alternative-tinged progressive rock, and it was the logical conclusion of the band's journey from its full-length debut, 2010's Exoplanet
, through 2012's Intrinsic
and 2014's Language
. While the sonic evolution of the band was not without its detractors it was certainly "progressive", with every album sounding different, but not jarringly so, from its predecessor and carrying the band steadily towards its hypothetical destination. But now that their evolution, from aggressive and breakdown-heavy metal band to nuanced and (overly?) subtle rock band, is complete where do they go? I imagine that question is one that the band has been asking themselves as much as their fans have been asking them, because the fact that Our Bones
is a brief 4-song EP that's still probably more sonically diverse than Clairvoyant
indicates that they're testing the waters of a future evolutionary voyage.
"Follow" and "Early Grave", the first 2 tracks on the EP and the real meat in this offering, are a breath of fresh air. No, they're not a step backwards towards the band's beginnings, but rather a step sideways. The band embraces quasi-breakdowns and harsh vocals once again, but not in the same way they did on Language
. The band's penchant for nuance and subtlety exerts itself even when they get heavy, especially on "Follow", resulting in a song that is dynamically far more interesting than anything on Clairvoyant
while still retaining its melodicism. There are real riffs here—more raw and less calculated than one is used to hearing from The Contortionist—and Mike Lessard actually asserts himself to complement and control them rather than contorting himself to avoid getting in their way. "Early Grave" sounds, instrumentally, like it could have been an outtake from Clairvoyant
, but Lessard once again elevates it by not blending into the background the way he did far too often on Clairvoyant
. Neither song has a standout vocal hook, but they're also not so subtle that they require multiple listens before making an impression.
The second half of the EP, comprising the truncated "All Grey" and a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979" is a tad more confusing. "All Grey" is a pretty piano driven ballad that is so ephemeral and short that it makes almost no impression. It almost feels like an intro to another song before it just fades out and is forgotten. "1979" is a completely straight cover that's pleasant enough, but also illustrates the major problem with the idea of The Contortionist as a alternative/progressive rock band; Mike Lessard is simply not interesting enough as a purely clean vocalist to pull it off convincingly. The original "1979" was a simple little song that was elevated to haunting beauty by the inherent ugliness of Billy Corgan's voice. Corgan's coarse snarl added depth of emotion to the bittersweet nostalgia even though he was trying to be gentle and tuneful. Conversely Lessard's much more conventionally pretty voice just floats along the surface of the song barely creating an emotional ripple
Even though this EP isn't an artistic statement, it does its job by drumming up interest in the future plans and direction of the band. It has enough good moments to start the ball rolling on the hype machine for the band's next album. Hopefully, that album will contain more harder-edged prog in the vein of "Follow" than tepid alt rock in the vein of "1979", but only time will tell.