Perhaps Contraption – Business Record Label: Independent
Released: March 7, 2011
Sometimes, the first time you’re listening to something, it just hits you full-on with its weirdness, for lack of a better word. I’ve never liked using that word, because of the way it reduces everything it touches to its singular abnormality, but that’s the base instinct. It’s only on the second, third, and subsequent trips back where the onion peels back and we get to see the layers, one by one.
Right off the bat, avant-garde pop group Perhaps Contraption does a smart thing by welding a chilly and off-putting veneer with a warm, inviting spirit. And as chilly and off-putting Business can get at times, it also remains a door wide open to exploration again and again.
A lot of that character owes credit to the breadth of the music itself. Perhaps Contraption is comprised of eight members, and those eight utilize a wide variety of instruments and influences from genres like jazz, rock, and folk. Opener “Business Part 1” blows through different movements at breakneck pacing, and the rest of the album isn’t far behind; the band never feels mired in one gear. The looseness in style is bolstered by effective, moody songwriting, such as on the breezy “Detritus” or the jovial yet subtly melancholy “Naughty Nigel”, but at times it undermines the band’s focus (this is a notable issue during a streak of instrumentals near the end that, while interesting, seem to serve little purpose than to steal a little time before the finale). Nevertheless, the reach of Perhaps Contraption’s kingdom is so vividly colored that the occasional shaky step hardly matters.
In stark contrast to the festive sound of Business, however, the lyrics are solemn, thoughtful, and often very critical of the world we live in. On “Tinily Whirring”, man’s fear of mortality is discussed with passages such as, “It's wiser to know that you don't know there's nothing at all”, and other tracks lament the damage humans have done to the earth (“Manunkind hangs nature in a noose / Irredeemable we're bound to lose”), the failure to learn from the past (“We'll write our own map / Construct our own compasses / From the old thoughts rubbed from the chalk boards”) and the cycle of life and death (“And maybe I will nourish the growth of that tree / Or I will provide lunch for the worms”). While oftentimes the words are cryptic and difficult to parse due to the pace of the music, they’re also the most rewarding part, lending the music thematic weight and show that as much as Perhaps Contraption plays high-concept, it’s rooted in the same concerns as the rest of us. Closer “Business Part 2” does the best job of bridging the gap between the personal and the thematic, mixing cerebral pondering with beautifully pictured passion.
So sure, Business is a weird album at first glance, but more than that it’s an incredibly thoughtful one: it doesn’t want to tell you its secrets but wants you to find them for yourself. The first go may be a little rough, but the door will always be wide open, waiting for somebody else to step in and explore.