Key Tracks: “Jabberwocky” “Contrariwise”
“Contrariwise” is, in a very loose term, a companion piece. The album was first performed (in my home state of Massachusetts) during a production of “Alice In Wonderland,” and was later released as an album. All but two of the seventeen tracks on the album are musical versions of Lewis Carroll’s poems found within the Alice works. The other two songs, “Contrariwise” and “(Push Them Into the) Wishing Well” were written by Daniel Hales, and co-exist in Carroll’s world. This album certainly isn’t for a commercial audience – it’s an ambitious and dense work that seeks to add more musicality to Carroll’s writing, and it’s largely successful.
Given that Carroll’s poems are often totally fantastical and even, at least in the case of “Jabberwocky,” total gibberish, you can’t exactly place this album under any one genre of music. At times it’s experimental, other times folksy, other times indie. The album’s one long song, “The White Knight’s Song,” feels like a 60’s folk song where the focus was on storytelling. “Beautiful Soup” is almost a ballad, while “Father William” brings guitars into a noisy ending, and “‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster” is almost a little psychedelic. Carroll’s words are usually reflected through the variety of music, although some songs are more straightforward. “Jabberwocky,” for one, leads off the album with a surprisingly straightforward indie ditty, but it is still one of the best songs on the album.
The band, in this iteration, consists of Hales on vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica and ukelele, James Lowe on bass, Ivan Ussach on drums and Anna Wetherby on viola. Daniel Kasnitz sings back-up vocals, and also credited are “the Looking Glass Creatures,” which happens to include Jeff Steblea. The band is swift throughout the album, often effortlessly switching between genres. The album, in many ways, feels similar to Steblea’s recent Mystics Anonymous, often blending straightforward indie/folk songs with more experimental works.
The band does a standout job at bringing Carroll’s words to life, and a great job expanding beyond their usual indie-folk sound into something more unpredictable. “Contrariwise” is a fun and ambitious album, if you’re looking for something like it. It won’t be something for everyone, but Carroll fans should take notice.
If you like this, try: As mentioned, the album loosely resembles the Mystics Anonymous album I recently reviewed, even having Steblea involved.
-By Andrew McNally