Contour - Onwards! Music Album Reviews

Contour - Onwards! Music Album Reviews
Blending weighty subject matter and loose, meandering grooves, the Charleston-based artist’s latest album moves like a raindrop down a windowpane—jagged, natural, and unpredictable.

If you laid out the waveforms of a song onto paper, Khari Lucas once explained during a regional television interview, it might look like a contour map. This is what inspired the Charleston-based musician’s artist name, Contour, and it’s the sort of visual thinking you might expect from a musician who started out producing beats, as Lucas did. Onwards!, his second full-length as Contour, is the kind of music you make when you’re used to manipulating sound shapes on a laptop screen—loose, drifting, free, with many tracks resembling sampled two-bar loops. It’s difficult to tell, without production credits, which sounds are generated by live instruments and which are sampled, and the hazy nexus where one melts into the other is the spot where Lucas’ music lives. 

It’s clear that Lucas considers his music as part of a larger project, linking him to a long lineage of Black artists: As a radio host for dublab’s Footprints in the Dark, he compiles two hours of music from a single Black musician each month, as a way to make what he calls his “research practice” public. The choice of archivist’s language feels pointed: Lucas is deeply invested in notions of Black musical inheritance and history. Throughout Onwards!, sampled voices repeatedly bob to the surface to lament, scold, or reflect. These samples all come from films made by the L.A. Rebellion, a group of filmmakers of color that came together in the late 1960s to highlight the lived conditions of Black Americans, leading to independent-cinema landmarks like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.

If this history sounds weighty, then it’s a testament to Lucas’ skill that Onwards! still moves like a raindrop down a windowpane—jagged, effortless, natural, unpredictable. The songs are atmospheric and purposefully blobby in shape, while Lucas’ supple singing voice has an improvisatory sense of play, tagging the track with offbeat, searching melodies like a muted trumpet. He has a penchant for locking onto a phrase—“I’m like 10 minutes from bankrupt,” from “Hearing Voices”—and testing out its many resonances, repeating it until every meaning—bitter, frightened, ironic, hopeless, matter-of-fact—has been exhausted. “The price of life I know I can’t afford/The tourniquet is always falling off ” he sings on “Skin Closure,” shaping the phrase into such a lovely, lilting shape it’s easy to miss its bleakness.  

Despite the focus on mood-setting and atmosphere, you sense Lucas’ firm hand guiding every decision, pushing the music along its meandering path: the subtle creep of the bass that enters on “Trench Prayer,” or the loping cross-stick snare that opens up air pockets in the groove on “Hearing Voices.”  In the close-stacked vocal harmonies of “You’d Do Well to Pack Light” that lag ever-so-slightly behind the beat, you hear a close study of Voodoo, and the distant spirit of the Soulquarians insinuates itself into the mix, both in jazzy, freeform bursts of texture and in the impulse to work away drowsily at a groove until it blooms open. 

Like anyone who has ever been asked what genre he works in, Lucas demurs (“Genres are for listeners, not for artists”). But in an interview with NTS, he cited Stevie Wonder, Grouper, and Brazilian music, all of which actually do a pretty good job of preparing you for the easeful float in his music. Onwards! will also strike many listeners as distinctly "post-Blonde," both in its porous genre borders and its stream-of-consciousness airiness. There are surface similarities, as well, between the calm hurt in Lucas’ voice and Frank Ocean’s, the same glassy heat and wounded dignity.

But Lucas’ music is darker, more dour and downcast than Ocean’s, more earthbound. On a song poignantly called “N**** Won’t Reach Mars,” Lucas sings, “Space is not the place,” gently rejecting Sun Ra’s iconic Afrofuturist exhortation and casting Mars as just one more place people of color will not be welcome: “What they want with us on the red rock?... I’d rather plant my feet wherе I can feel the rain.” This is a complicated emotional gesture he repeats throughout Onwards!, one that gains power and resonance the more you notice it being deployed: on the one hand, rejection and negation; on the other, a feint toward affirmation, a glance toward possibility.

On the smoky and spellbinding “Babe Brother,” he sings about the weight of patriarchal oppression—“Many wives carry the burden of/All the suffering.” It’s a lot for anyone to tackle single-handedly, but Lucas smartly avoids big statements, here and everywhere else. The rest of the song, as with the rest of Onwards!, lives where the rest of us do—wandering in clouds of uncertainty, contending with cold jets of doubt (“Can my vow, vow to return it all/Can it solve this?”) and savoring fleeting bursts of resolve (“Taking stock of the heart I got/Share it freely”.) There is no lesson, because Lucas is no teacher, just a citizen, lost as the rest of us.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Contour - Onwards! Music Album Reviews Contour - Onwards! Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 06, 2022 Rating: 5


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