Mike McLatchey 7-Sep-2006 Overview

Contraction are one of Quebec's most prized symphonic rock ensembles having only released two albums in their short lifetime, three if you count the English lyric version of their self-titled debut. In general, Contraction perform a sublime, melodic rock music that holds quite a bit in common with symphonic rock of the era with their keyboard-heavy arrangements, segments of complex ensemble work and strong vocal harmonies. Through their short career, the band was, in its most basic formation, a quartet of Christiane Robichaud, Robert Lachapelle, Christian St-Roch and Yves Laferriere.

On their debut album (Columbia FS90104), Contraction remind me strongly of pre-Rumours, Christine McVie-era Fleetwood Mac, particularly due to Robichaud's voice and the band's light and breezy rock style. Also similar to Fleetwood Mac is Contraction's song-focused approach, an orientation that makes few of their songs clock over four or five minutes in length. The symphonic stylings are generally in the instrumental layering, particularly the warm vocal harmonies, rich keyboard arrangements and flute and guitar overlays. The band never verges into any bombastic instrumental flights and the more complicated, rhythmically challenging segments tend to be used as introductions or bridges between the verses and choruses. Where Contraction excel is in their instrumental and vocal arrangements, a delicate balancing act that brings out the best in both. The keyboards are often dominated by piano, and the interplay among these, the rhythm section, and guitar are complex enough in their own right before bringing in the vocals which vary from solo approaches to choral harmonies with great diversity. The vocal gymnastics here remind me of the sort of thing you might find on a Mellow Candle album, for instance, where Robichaud will lay down one line while another pirouettes about it. It's probably the band's extreme restraint, particularly for the era, that makes it succeed so unquestionably, as they never go overboard on the dramatics.

The band's second album (or third if you count the English vocal version of the above album), La Bourse ou la Vie (Deram XDEF 106), matured the same formulas with an even greater attention to the intricate interplay among the female vocals. Here the band is augmented by several guests for a richer and more sophisticated sound that is perhaps a step closer to the progressive rock of the time, while still retaining their accessible interface. The songs are generally longer here, except for the Ouverture and Fermeture of Jos Couer that opens both halves of the album. Like their debut, this album succeeds mostly on the merits of the balanced arrangements, a skill of the group that helps to integrate a larger line up without any particular individual crowding out another. Contraction's ability to create an accessible yet sophisticated melodic rock music is truly a rare feat, particularly in an era where excess was the rule rather than exception. While the maturation might have slightly dulled the excitement prevalent on the debut album, especially in that the songs are a bit less light and airy on La Bourse, at the same time it showed an interest in sophistication that pointed towards some interesting ideas that unfortunately would never come to fruition as the members of the band broke up and went onto other projects.

However, the two/three-album legacy that Contraction left remains as a highlight of the 70s Quebecois rock scene, and in particular it is these two albums that define what was best about the music - the restraint, sense of melody without falling to excessive romanticism, and sophisticated arrangements without the need to bog down and lose the "song" like so many more well-known symphonic rock groups of the time. Two albums long overdue for reissue. (ed: It's fortunate to finally see these reissued, even if they could have been done better.)

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