After first listening to Art Contest’s sophomore album, Two Songs, I was convinced that the complex arpeggiating layers were comprised of more than two band members. The duo maintains high-energy in every song, with only a guitar, loop pedal, and drums. Art Contest creates calculated yet experimental, meandering songs in the studio the same way they are performed live. Although there is a fluidity to their sets that becomes more refined in the studio, the feel remains quite similar – even in headphones, it is as if the listener is front and center at a modern indie-mathrock fusion show.
While simultaneously teasing at the pop aesthetic and sticking to surfy, prog roots, Two Songs was mainly comprised of springy, arpeggiating guitar loops over shuffling drums. Sections of each song seem to ping-pong off of each other, simultaneously connected, yet disconnected like a softer Jorge Arana Trio.
With several songs on the album clocking in at under a minute long, I suppose you can never have too much build. For example, the drum solo that is “Chico,” (0:55) into “Lentenmen” (1:57) made the guitar stand out more when played on its own. Another short, but upbeat and catchy self titled jam comes immediately with track 3, “Art Contest” (0:33) built to the five and a half minute “Sports,” complete with the first vocals of the album, “Catch of the day, respect our team,” chanted repeatedly.
The irony of this becomes far more apparent as the guitar chords and slipping vocals of “Ready Play,” are stretched like taffy, before taking the listener immediately back into rim hits and traveling high energy guitar in “Wall Ball.” Transitions in “Wall Ball” grow discordant towards the end, before the listener is taken into a very different section, comprised of compositional break-down style drums and masterful effects pedal-work.
Yet again, in “Trophy Wife,” Art Contest breaks away briefly from high-energy antics, creating very pretty guitar harmonies, over minimal drumwork. This simplification drew attention especially to the way that the duo layers their instruments to create their songs.
But of course, we are back to discordant chord progressions and high energy yet again. The anxiety-ridden RGB features guitars smashing off of the crash of the drums and high pitched shattering guitars looped over, progressively wiggling into a Dr. Seuss nightmare for the listener to wake up from with cold sweats.
The song, “Horror,” in contrast, does not sound quite so horrifying, and instead reverts to indie aesthetics with Vündabar-esque vocals. This erratic vocal style is quite interesting, as the band does not seem to focus on or care about lyrical content. This blasé conceptualization of lyrics converts the vocal to just another instrument to interact with the series of loops and jams that the duo composes.
Energy levels max out in “Tokyo Megaplex,” where the vocalist is screaming with rolling drums and effects feedback, until we really need a “Breather,” (37 seconds of drinking and mouth sounds), only to pick back up again in “Seadoo.” The vocals in this song are entirely different, and highly effected to sound like an old recording.
The energy ebbs and flows through effects pedals like a psychedelic beach throughout the rest of the album, solidifying Art Contest as unique. Although, there is a certain familiarity to their sound, and the overall feel of the music, that makes the listener long for the dense heat of summer.