Contraption is Joe McNertney and Eric Rohn (a.k.a. The Noble Octopus), who have blazed their own wayward musical paths over the past few years, self-releasing their slanted pop music. They’re a pair of Iowa Citians for whom music is an avocation, pursued when time can be stolen away from day jobs and family obligations.
I’m not sure ‘amateur’ or ‘hobbyist’ fits in this locality, since I can name only a few people able who pursue music full time here: There’s the old school folk hegemony comprising Greg Brown, his family and friends and Will Whitmore, but no one else as far as I know. This is a drag for all the people waiting tables at The Mill and the Hamburg who should be able to pursue music full time. But it’s also liberating. Guys like McNertney and Rohn aren’t looked down upon for having day jobs and playing music when they can, because almost everyone else is doing the same thing.
And not having to making a living out of music means the freedom to try whatever–which is where Contraption is at right now. They can put together a Pavement-esque pop gem like “sing spirals,” and follow it up with a loose, drony jam like “thinking in french, speaking japanese.” The latter contrasts an off-kilter assemblage of buzzing and droning sounds with an electric-piano groove that cycles between major and minor chords. At less than three minutes, it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome and still feels full.
The drumming on the album is recorded with little in the way of bass, resulting in the whole album sitting obstinately in an attenuated mid-range world. Call that amateurish, but it’s actually truer than a lot of ‘professional’ recordings that hype up the frequency extremes to sound better than reality. My favorite track, “green-eyed contempt,” combines tiny electronic drums from the mighty Casio SKI-1 with hard-panned gong sounds, layers of guitar and vocals that meander through the haze. Everything about the song is wrong, and it’s still lovable and engaging. Which is how I’d sum up I: lovable, engaging and wrong.
Kent Williams wonders where his third grade four square pals are now.