José Contreras - S/T
Released July 8, 2014
By Charlie Dims
For fans of José Contreras, or By Divine Right, the indie rock band which Contreras co-founded, hearing that Jose has a new solo album full of stripped back, slow, and intimate love songs might come as a surprise. Any artist making such a drastic career change is admirable feat. Many musicians talk about a desire to reinvent, but to actually do it is something else. And this is quite a change. While Contreras still has the same hazy voice that By Divine Right fans know and love, his new self-titled album seems much closer to something you’d hear in a coffee shop than a quiet rock concert. It is an album that, like many good ones before it, is hard to get used to at first. Many of the songs may seem repetitive—at least initially. But sometimes strongly-crafted art needs time to grow on the viewer before it can be fully appreciated. If one looks further, it becomes apparent that José Contreras is really a love story. And, perhaps as a nod to the famous Skid Row, Contreras is a prisoner, too—not from the consequences of crime, but from the hardships and battles of love.
Depending on how the listener views it, José Contreras can either be the tale of the growth and eventual destruction of a relationship, the memories of a former love, or something in the middle. Songs like Listen to My Angels or Psychic Radio are Contreras at his strongest. The breathy mist of his vocals match perfectly with his lyrics of lush memories that have the texture of summer afternoons. As we get to songs like Help Me Find a Place to Land, his voice takes on a subtle, but still tangible sense of uneasiness and loneliness as he croons to find a friend in the darkness.
As the album gets closer to the end, Contreras accepts that, though he can’t “make it real” with the one he loves, he still searches for something that can lift him up (I Want Light). In the final song, he declares that he’s “gonna kick this bummer in the ass/one time for you” (Kick This Bummer). There is a sense of a soft renewal. There is not much resolution, but this should not be viewed as a fault of the album. After all, when has unrequited love ever had a resolution?