Plugged, but not hinged

If you’ve heard of Perhaps Contraption you’re probably under the impression that they’re an avant-garde brass band, and you may even have seen them marching around summer festivals pushing a pram and making noises that are neither plugged nor hinged. Their debut album, ten years old this year, is something different however (i.e. it is about as hinged as you might expect, but it is very much plugged). The band it documents—and I have no idea whether it corresponds to their 2010 live schtick, or whether it’s solely a studio confection—is a cacophonous heap of math-rock, avant-prog pranksterism, clattering down the stairs like the audio analogue to the ‘Hard Cutlery’ in one song title. Performative and compositional intensity are the order of the day.

The music on Sludge and Tripe is often chaotic in effect, but notwithstanding some outbursts of free improvisational frenzy, most of that chaos is highly organised—whether the impression is achieved by precisely realised off-kilter rhythmic invention, or by woozy faux-aleatoric textures. In fact, this album contains some of the tightest ensemble rock performances I’ve heard in a long time. Its musical creativity is allied to a ludicrous lyrical inventiveness that reinforces the music’s humour, although its frequent changes of direction and carny aesthetic would make that clear enough without vocals. Topics range from distressed swans to the relative gastrointestinal effects of tea and coffee, via the hazards of crabbing, and the vocals are delivered with warped charismatic panache.

Humour is often mistaken for a lack of seriousness, but this is a recording of serious music—far more serious than any number of lazy and uninventive alternative rock recordings that may well take themselves extremely seriously. It’s serious in the important ways: in its commitment to compositional and creative rigour, to the highest standards of musicianship, to attending consciously to all the dimensions of sound production, and to a high estimation of its audience’s intelligence and adventurousness. This album, like all the best art, offers a lesson in listening, of the sort that can only be given by a master of their medium.

I guess that some listeners (Spouse for example, as experimental results suggest) will find the daft and frenetic surface of this music an insurmountable obstacle to engagement. Some will assume that anything this humorous can’t be worthwhile in other ways. Some will find the frequent dissonances unpleasant, while others will be unhappy with the music’s refusal to sit still and be one thing. Personally I’ve found it unfeasibly entertaining, the kind of unimpeachable, feel-good, fun music that requires no explanation or apology—but my tastes are not usual. However, for me, that hilarious and playful entertainment value marries perfectly to the deep and inventive musical creativity that underpins the record—this is an album I will never grow tired of.

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