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CAT#: ULY024
ARTIST: Contrahouse
TITLE: Contrahouse
DATE: 02/16/2024

PRICE: $25

Welcome to CONTRAHOUSE. These four beguiling and voluptuous longform compositions were created across three continents over the course of two years by ULYSSA Platinum-carrying members Gabriel GuerraLucas de PaivaBruce Hornsby and Jenny Konradsen. Yes, THAT Bruce Hornsby, a hero of ours since middle school when we swiped copies of his first few records from our step-mom’s dusty CD tower.

But first things first here: CONTRAHOUSE probably had its start down at UHQ with some random phrases written on scrap paper — “I too am 3 AM,” or “Big Time Sensuality Pt. 2,” or “The contrahouse is now your home,” or “Father of ocular jellyfish.” They’ve shown up in art we made a time or two. But we were never sure what these phrases meant or where they belonged. This is how projects like this begin. It is not rare.

What is rare is finding two people like Guerra and de Paiva in the depths of the Internet. Their jazz/dance label 40% Foda/Maneiríssimo is really the most marvelous label on the planet. And they are vital cogs in Rio’s underground dance scene. Frequently, they’re also tapped as crack session players by Brazil’s pop phenoms. Across 40% Foda’s 60 releases Guerra and de Paiva create humid, midi-led outsider-lounge, cheeky trance and breakneck 808 techno under myriad aliases. They draw from 90s video game soundtracks, library music, mid-80s ECM jazz and deep house — all shot through with a sense of humor and a uniquely Brazilian sensibility for movement. We’ve spent the last few years proselytizing for 40% Foda, Guerra and de Paiva to just about anyone who feigned any bit of interest.

A couple years ago, we were down in UHQ dreaming about musicians in or adjacent to the Ulyssaverse with whom Guerra and de Paiva might collaborate on a project we called “ECM Records meets white label house 12.” The name we kept coming back to was Bruce Hornsby, the Grammy winning songwriter and iconic avant-Americana pianist whom we just so happened to become friends with a few years ago. From his powerful 80s radio hits to his adventures in New Jack Swing and bluegrass; from his jazz outings with Jack DeJohnette to his ’91 tour playing keys for the Grateful Dead — Hornsby’s deep well of intellectual curiosity when paired with his world-class virtuosity positions him a once-in-generation artist as far as we’re concerned. Just listen to the three astounding albums he’s released since 2019 for further evidence of this claim.

The boys from Rio and Hornsby both agreed to take a swing at our wild hair concept, which almost immediately started calling “Contrahouse.” Guerra and de Paiva traded pieces with Hornsby, editing his riffs and runs into new movements or reconfiguring a few Hornsby chords into the bedrock of a track. But wait, we had one more additional idea: Might a voice take these pieces into some sort of anthemic territory?

Immediately, we thought of our dear Norwegian friend Jenny Sabel (nee Konradsen) whose voice is both mulled wine and warm milk — and has brought such comfort to us over the years, particularly certain early mornings after late, late nights down at UHQ. She was smackdab in the middle of recording her second album but agreed to lay down some vocals — but only if we provided some text. And so we took some of those random phrases above and reworked a few poems from ULYSSA’s EO Deines that may or may not end up in a ULYSSA publication one day. On CONTRAHOUSE, Konradsen’s vocal takes have chopped, screwed, dubbed-out and pitched way down by Guerra and de Paiva into gorgeous dada meaninglessness.

The songs on CONTRAHOUSE are pulsing, twinkling, humid and oft elliptical. It’s novo-hauntology music — echoes of the past meandering down mountain streams, unexpected offshoots abound. These compositions contain a great many of the elements we adore about 40% Foda but it also pulls at those elements like so much taffy. Inventive and mystifying maneuvers at every turn. Ultimately, the four songs do in fact pay a loose homage to some mid-1980s ECM Records we cherish. Think, perhaps, of the sensual, airbrushed and profound music of Pat Metheny Group’s Offramp, Oregon’s Ecotopia; Egberto Gizmonti’s Duas Vozes, or perhaps John Hassel’s Power Spot. And it does in fact nod to deep house white label releases and Larry Heard’s seminal work Sceneries Not Songs Vol. 1. But CONTRAHOUSE is inventive and curious in its own right.

First single “Jellyfish” sounds like a blue-lit living room at 3 AM, the shadowed bars of the blinds stretched in a Dutch angle across the wall. You’ve tossed and turned for an hour and finally decided to just get out of bed. Guerra and de Paiva create the sound of a fever dream breaking. Hornby’s spiderhanded piano strikes are the ocular jellyfish skittering across your eyeball’s widescreen. Suddenly, you’re given a secret superpower while the rest of the world dreams. You walk out into the night.

Side B starts with “American Bottoms, named after a real place — a wide flat valley surrounded by the rolling hills of Southern Indiana between the hamlets of Bloomington and Bloomfield. Somewhere out there is a now-defunct orchard growing the American persimmon where we spent two collegiate summer’s breaks maintaining the orchard, being wild rumdrunk jackels in John Deere Gators rumbling across the hills. And though not one of these musicians have ever been to American Bottoms, the splendor and bliss of those green hills in the dog days of Southern Indiana summer is palpable in the song.

The album’s artwork was generously provided by Brooklyn painter Jenny J. Lee, whose fibrous and tactile depictions of seemingly ho-hum everyday objects like Levi’s and lemons, ape skulls and driving gloves, remind us that everything in this world holds a bit of the mystical and bigtime sensuality. Just like the music contained within.

CONTRAHOUSE is a liminal space. And the CONTRAHOUSE is now your home.

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