CFA Thursday features a band rolling through town or a new album of note.
“Silver Thread” off Jose Contreras’s self-titled new album
Jose Contreras fronts By Divine Right, a twenty-five-year-old legendary powerhouse of catchy indie rock; they’re something of a pre Broken Social Scene Canadian supergroup. In fact, both Feist and Brendan Canning were in By Divine Right in their early days (starting with the release of 1999’s Bless This Mess), before doing their own things, and, joining Broken Social Scene. The Golden Dogs’ Stew Heyduk , as well as Brian Borcherdt have also served time in By Divine Right. As have dozens of other musicians.
The original formation of the band came together as Contreras’ high school band in 1989, and By Divine Right have released ten records, including their hit-filled breakout Good Morning Beautiful, and the mega gem Sweet Confusion, as highlights. But 2014 marks Contreras first solo material – ten stripped bare songs previously recorded by By Divine Right. Even hardcore fans of the band won’t believe these tunes came from the same man as their band-backed versions. Contreras has totally adapted them to create the album’s slow, quiet ache.
There’s a danger in going solo after fronting and touring with a band for so long: it can be seen as a statement that I am the band. There’s no sense of that on this solo debut, perhaps because it’s a true solo album (no band), and in fact, as he told the crowd at his St. John’s Lawnya Vawnya show in April, the solo album wasn’t even his idea, and he actually looked exposed and afraid on stage without the band. This record is simply a different side of some familiar songs. Calling it an acoustic album doesn’t capture just how differently these songs are presented, and how spare the sound is on the record.
This is an album meant to take a bath to, or a Sunday nap to, whereas By Divine Right is party music, driving music. The spare nature of the tracks means there is little tempo and texture differences to make one track stand out from the next, but as Lee Maslin, the album’s producer says in the liner notes, “I’m very proud of the outcome and I genuinely hope that you will connect with this LP in the spirit in which it was created.” That spirit is essentially Maslin’s enthusiasm for Contreras’ music; he even thanks Jose for “affording me the opportunity to realize a long held dream” in making Jose release a stripped down album. Lee puts some nice touches on the album, using backing vocal tracks in interesting ways to fill spaces drums and bass would normally inhabit.
The fact the album wasn’t prompted by Jose’s own desire to make a solo record might explain why – at times – it plays a little self-consciously, as if Jose is not so much out of his comfort zone, but, certainly outside of where he naturally belongs (the sound on a by Divine Right album). This record is entirely Lee Maslin’s pet project, so much so, he promised Jose that if Jose didn’t like it, Lee wouldn’t release it. The end result is a novelty album for fans of By Divine Right and Canadian indie rock, and, an album that’s got Jose on track to release more solo material, but this time, not By Divine Right songs. He plans to release a batch of original solo songs that are meant for “performing quietly by myself.”
But this is not the end of By Divine Right. In his home studio, Contreras is currently mixing a new album by the latest iteration of the band: him, Lysh Haugen, and Geordie Dynes. It’ll be gone off to be mastered this month, and they’re already talking about the one to follow it. A concept album, called Onomatopoeia, that is “based on sounds.”
Jose’s album, the one he performed songs from and talked about at this year’s Lawnya Vawnya festival in St. John’s, hits stores on Tuesday.