Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review - Delphic - "Acolyte"

I had planned to start this review with a clever state of the nation electro pop slant, but then realized I'm not really equipped nor qualified to do that.  My interest in music that mixes electronic and traditional guitar/bass/drums instrumentation has always been there to varying degrees, but in the last number of years there have been some young bands who have mastered a really slick sound and electro pop has become a solid staple genre in my regular listening routine.

"Slick" under certain circumstances would be the last musical styling an artist might want to employ in their arsenal of listener impressions.  It harkens a mechanicalness (absolutely a word - but I might make a couple other words up before I'm done with this one) or sterility that many bands would view as diminishing their ability to project as heartfelt or soulful.  Understandable, but context of sound and a slightly different lens can uncover a depth, complexity, and connectedness in electronic music if a listener is prepared to invest the right type of energy.

So my opening rant this time is a not so brief way of suggesting the debut album, Acolyte by Manchester electro popsters Delphic is every bit as emotionally engaged as anything the best dirty bearded hippies with neck braced harmonicas and undersized accoustic guitars are able to offer up.  Acolyte is a terribly ambitious record with some of the most complex and subtle song dynamics I have heard in a long while.  Just about every track has a strong central theme, often rooted in a solid bass line, yet the band can take their songs in a number of interesting directions without straying far from the core path they set out at commencement.  Prog acts often get lost in their own ambition.  Delphic bare the same type of musical adventurism, but never stray into self indulgence or grand standing.  Some songs are long than others are, but all are appropriate length for the story they tell.

"Clarion Call" kick starts the album with a patient set-up.  Some of the repeating vocal lines are reminiscent of fellow Manchester scenesters The Longcut.  If you're vehemently opposed to heavy synthesized sounds, this is your first signal that this might not be your cup of tea.  This is a shame though because this track sets the tone for how the longer journey will play out and when the drums kick in at about half time you're aware that this is more than just another electronic album.

"Doubt" is one of the more recent singles from the album and what a perfect way to have dancers and melody fiends unite for some arse shaking and head bobbing.  This is perhaps where you can first hear traces of why there have been so many New Order references surrounding this band.  Maybe in the guitar bits and timings, but in the grander scheme of things, other than being from Manchester, they're a pretty different band than New Order.  If it helps people find them and ultimately enjoy Delphic on their own merits, so be it I say, but let's not get bogged down in a comparison that's truly a stretch at best.

Many of the tracks use minor chords and notes that give an erie sort of vibe that is brilliantly juxtaposed by some of the most clever little beats and percussive packaging you would hear more from commonly with DJ and mixer based music.  These subtle tricks are particularly prominent on "Red Lights", the song that first hooked me on this album.  There's a whole host of segments where different sounds get dialed out and the whole song sounds like it's running out of gas.  When they bring it back it never sounds the same twice.  This also breaks up some of the monotony that can sometimes permeate itself in synth type music.

There is some great falsetto scattered throughout, some dreamy vocals lines, and some incredibly whimsical and gentle keys as effects in the background.  The band makes you curious as to whether a track will introduce vocals at all (on "Acolyte"), yet leave you feeling completely okay if they decide not to.  On certain tracks it's almost as if the band is taunting the listener as to whether the song will drop into full on dancy dance.  "So do you want club...okay...we can do that."

Acolyte is the first album of 2010 where I consciously decided to tread cautiously after reading some initial reviews.  Any band compared to New Order, rightly or wrongly, is worth checking out in my opinion.  I just think some of the reviewers missed the mark on this album somewhat.  Perhaps it's that now infamous pissing match between US and UK critics, where US writers (often accurately) feel UK writers are prematurely propping up mediocre bands who end up in used bins alongside Starsailor and Dodgy.  Or perhaps its the unfair reality that the US simply doesn't seem to have the musical DNA to produce bands in this particular sonic zone.

So even as this rag-tag Canadian based blog with unidentified readership and rampant hyperbolic tendencies attempts to sort through the biases of the big time reviewers in the interest of objectivity, I'm mostly inclined to just close by saying this is an absolutely fantastic album by an interesting young band that makes impressive use of all the sounds and tools at their disposal.