David Reid is singing angst for the memories. The creative force behind the Contrast alternates his lyrical tendencies between the obscurely eclectic, the culturally knowing, and the heartbrokenly mundane, then couches those words behind strong beats and a slick mastery of the Rickenbacker guitar. His band's sophomore effort Wireless Days is an impressive and solid package of music, a dozen songs that build on the promise laid out on their debut Mystery #1.
The Contrast has grown as a band, and are a solid quartet now with Reid leading with vocals and guitar, James Crossley on drums, Richard Mackman on bass, and Spencer Hart on backing vox and rhythm guitar. Andy Hawkins is back as producer/engineer and also lends an occasional keyboard accent to the proceedings. There's a feeling of confidence borne of playing together well (yes, the band is tight in live performance too) but the real magic comes from Reid's ability to tap into what's gone before and translate it into something moody and new.
The Contrast's sound is not unfamiliar. Most would argue that it resembles early Tom Petty (with a little Tom Verlaine as well), but I hear the earlier Roger McGuinn/Byrds antecedent as well. Reid is a very adept guitarist with a soft voice who manages to find the subtle hooks that grab hold with repeated listenings.
The CD opens with the infectious single "Can't Stand the Light", an anthem to things not being quite right in a relationship complete with jangly Rickenbackers and sweet harmonies (and I love how the music ceases suddenly mid-song to match the lyrics). Sweet "Association-like" harmonies appear later in the song as well. The guitar-adorned title track is an ode to a restless mind: "Too many fears / Too many ideas drowning on a wireless day".
My current favorite here is "Fortune". Opening with a Crossley drum riff that seems borrowed from Pete Thomas on Costello's "This Year's Girl", then quickly changing into something reminiscent of Tom Petty, the song tells the tale of a woman unsure of herself and eager to become someone she's not: "You're never gonna change your fortune / Hiding inside every hole like you never got lost / You've got all the bills but you can't tell the cost / You're never coming back and you're thinking about wondering why".
Another very catchy song here is "Mask", one selected for repeated airplay by Stevie Van Zandt on his Underground Garage syndicated radio show. Again, there is some sense of hiding behind a mask (real or metaphorical, can't say for sure) -- a common theme in many of Reid's songs.
The lovely "What You Want" offers layers of pretty guitar in the style of the Byrds that surround the tale of a man reluctant to be pursued by a woman who is always around. The happy sound of this song belies the words contained within it.
"Ansaphone" is another candidate for radio airplay, an infectious song of miscommunication with strong drums and guitars that builds to the beauty of an a cappella harmony ending.
While the first half dozen songs are all standouts, the second part of the CD requires a few more listens for proper appreciation. "Unfair Game" seems a little derivative of the previous (and stronger) song "Fortune", following a similar formula with strong drum rhythms leading the verses. While I like the song (another tale of drunken misgivings and faulty communication in a failed relationship), I think it suffers some from the comparison.
"Charlie Grey" is another lament of lost love made all the worse by the odd misfortune of getting messages for some fairly popular stranger named Charlie Grey. "Drop Dead Gorgeous Love Song" is a soft ballad about laughing at one's troubles in love, including (yes) more miscommunication ("I guess I didn't tell you everything").
The Contrast show some '50s/Elvis influence in "Late Train", which features a different Brian Setzer/Stray Cats-type flavor not heard on other tracks. The moody contemplative "Elvis Fix" is the closer here, a ballad of memory problems and mysterious revenge.
All told, the majority of these songs are real winners, with a sound that's familiar yet new. The David Reid we see in song is a thinker who hasn't fared well in relationships, and may drink and smoke a bit much at times to get over this fact. Thankfully, that angst is put across with winning melodies, layers of great guitar, strong rhythms, and pleasant harmonies. Wireless Days is a big step forward for a band that deserves a larger audience. With a little more favorable airplay, the Contrast just might achieve that goal.