Contriva: Separate Chambers
Morr Music

Appearing three years after If you had stayed …, Contriva's Separate Chambers seems a natural complement to another recent Morr release, Couch's Figure 5. Both outfits are quartets of a somewhat ‘post-rock' disposition, and both include female members who've established themselves outside the group (Couch's Stefanie Böhm is also one-half of Ms. John Soda while Masha Qrella recently released a first-rate solo album on Morr). But unlike Couch, Contriva (Qrella plus Max Punktezahl, Rike Schuberty, and Hannes Lehmann) boosts its instrumentals with an occasional vocal song and, tellingly, the two on Separate Chambers rank among the album's most appealing.

The instrumental material—succinct folk-rock instrumentals that are more pop than prog—emphasizes accessible melodies and simple structures, and a good deal of it impresses. There's a heavy emphasis on jangling acoustic and electric guitar interplay and an occasional European (France) scent seeps in courtesy of accordion. The feel is laconic, nonchalant, and intimate, though guitars rise to a nice snarl in a few places. The reverberant twang of a desert guitar bleeds over a languorous groove in “Good to Know” while “Number Me” engrosses with its uptempo breeziness. A sly hint of bossa nova creeps in along the organ and spiky guitar edges of “Say Cheese” and “Florida / Lay-by” features supple acoustic and electric guitar interplay topped by Tobias Hett's violin. The instrumentals are polished and executed with panache but they're also rather uninvolving and, frankly, not spectacular or fiery enough (during the overlong “Centipede” especially) to get terribly excited about.

The vocal cuts burst with energy: kickstarted by a fuzzy bass line, “Before” transforms itself into breezy, Broadcast-styled pop of the first rank once the silken vocals appear, while breathy singing adds luscious charm to the catchy folk-pop of “I Can Wait.” All of which leads one to conclude that, as an instrumental outfit, Contriva is certainly a more than decent proposition. But why it (like Couch with Böhm) doesn't exploit one of its obvious potential strengths—Qrella's vocalizing—is puzzling. If “Before” and “I Can Wait” are reliable indicators, without very much trouble at all Contriva could position itself as a quartet more akin to Broadcast than Tortoise. Then again, ten years on, Contriva might just be satisfied with the persona it's developed until now and be uninterested in redefinition.

December 2006