Contortions – “Buy” (1979 / 2002)

contortionsbuyMy first, and I believe only, prior experience with the Contortions was on the No New York compilation.  I’m fascinated with the idea of the brief supernova-followed-by-implosion of the no wave scene, which basically jumped the shark the exact moment that it became defined by its own genre – once you put a label on it, it was over.

I’d have preferred an original pressing, but this 180g (♠) 4 Men With Beards reissue was in the right place at the right time at the right price, so I scooped it up.  The Contortions are best described, IMO, as “saxophone funk punk”.  The songs are a bit disjointed and weird in a way that feels to intentional to be artistically naive, but Buy is still an intriguing album, one that you can never quite get a handle on, kind of like trying to “see” a really black object in the dark when you basically have to not look directly at it in order to actually see it, with it disappearing when you look right at it. (♥)  It has an undercurrent of free jazz combined with early punk vocals.  The only legitimate comparison I can make is to the contemporary Icelandic band Þeyr, but even there there’s a disconnect, the Europeans being sonically denser and a bit more organized in their song structure.  It’s really something you need to experience for yourself.

(♠) I have a love/hate relationship with 180g vinyl.  In general it seems like a bit of a waste and sonically it doesn’t bring anything particularly special to the table.  That being said, I seldom find a 180g that’s warped, and that’s a big plus.

(♥) If you’ve never experienced this before, you probably think I’m crazy.  Which is true, but doesn’t change the fact that this phenomenon exists.

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