Published Sep 25, 2019Even when he's stripping things down with minimal and acoustic instrumentation, José Contreras can't help but write the most alluring hooks. On the sparse, direct and reflective At the Slaughterhouse, by a dad and a person of this world, Contreras is a dreamy realist whose very voice is an off-kilter lullaby.
The rock charge of his beloved band, By Divine Right, is tucked in for the night so that Contreras can sing these past-midnight ruminations that employ artful metaphors to convey personal thoughts. Opener "Grand Central Station" feels more like a centerpiece — one of the most compelling songs Contreras has ever written. It has the stark feeling and poetic tone of John Lennon's early solo work, like his "Isolation," and similarly talks bigger picture stuff while showing you a selfie.
Indeed, "At 45" confronts Contreras's own middle age, as a father and ex-husband who admits he "don't have anything figured out," but revels in rather than runs from the uncertainty of life choices and how love can be this thing that's always in flux somehow. Things feel more upbeat in the endearingly soothing and catchy "Crackers and Ginger Ale" and there are darkly comic things like the title track and the Jim Guthrie vibe of "Epiphany in St. John's," which exemplifies the subtle orchestration at play throughout.
Occasionally heartbreaking but always insightful in its confessional impulses, At the Slaughterhouse shows off José Contreras for what he is: one of North American indie rock's finest vocalists and most authentic and romantic artistic minds. (Headless Owl)