One-man band times two equals more than the sum of its parts.
So, here’s the thing. A two-man, one-man band, an industrial folk-grunge experiment where the two protagonists, Paul Givant and Stephen Andrews have set out to create a big and robust sound whilst playing as many instruments as possible between the two of them. In best one-man band tradition, they share vocals, play guitar, bass and banjo whilst using their feet for drums and percussion. It is fair to say that on their resulting debut album as The Contraptionists, they have pretty much succeeded in that stated aim.
Although they have been working together for some time as part of the five-piece Americana band Rose’s Pawn Shop, ‘Working Man’s Dread’ is their debut as The Contraptionists. Many of the songs have a multi-layered feel to them that belie the absence of a studio full of musicians. Opening track ‘River Lethe’, named after the ‘river of forgetting’ in Greek mythology, a song of someone trying to forget or rewrite the past, is as good an example of this as any. Bringing to mind elements of Crowded House in both vibe and vocal likeness it paves the way for what is to follow.
Givant’s songwriting doesn’t skimp on lyrics either. Songs that explore life on the road and the struggle to make ends meet, murder ballads, love and relationships in all its guises. Whatever the subject matter Givant explores them all with wordy and intelligent lyrics, often delivered, as on ‘Empire of Smoke’ and ‘Past the Speed of Sound’, at a blistering pace.
With its acknowledged nod to Tom Waits the aforementioned murder ballad, ‘Murky Floor’ is a terrific piece of songwriting and allows the duo to demonstrate that the strength of their respective vocals more than match their virtuosity as musicians.
For other album high points ‘Plead’ is a slower number, a hopeless obsession played out as a ballad, “I’d crawl upon my hands just to touch your body. Does it pleasure you to fan the flames in me while I just plead?” And, as if to save the best till last ‘Dream Song’, with its mesmeric guitar riff returns to the theme of life on the road as a musician and the joy of returning home after weeks on tour. That Crowded House vibe is never more prominent here and is a joyful conclusion to a hugely likeable debut.