Monday, 28 January 2013

Delphic - Collections


When I first stumbled upon Mancunian three-piece Delphic, and their surprisingly catchy, fittingly humble mix of danceable beats and rejuvenating melodies, there was an immediate attraction to how they fuzed such a pop-centred, electronically-driven sound together. A sound that was, at the time two years ago, finally beginning to break ranks and be recognized by both culture and the media for what it was: simple-but-effective dance-pop for the mind as well as the body. And it was this refined edge to Delphic's debut that I found myself returning to in the following months. Maybe not in a crazed allure of listening to it front to back, or even in some obsessive hindrance from turning the repeat one track button off, but certainly in a way that gives reason to suspect this is something that has the potential to be much grander and fulfilling in future releases. And given how their music has already made its way into televisual culture in this country - where youth is the subject, and some manner of struggle or challenge (in something of a 'quality' credible television suggestiveness) is the theme - they've certainly been proclaimed, perhaps branded is the better choice of word here, as a band who's sound stands for the unremitting sprawl of young anxiety. In that regard, you can't blame Delphic for wanting to mix things up a little on their follow-up 'Collections', in perhaps an attempt to appeal to this new-found newly-established culture of wavered youth - balancing dangerously between joyous exposition and melancholic dissatisfaction - or more likely, as a way to escape such a context and prove themselves the more credible.

But as you get into the album, you realize that Delphic remain undeniably human in their approach, not so much in a consolidation of their vulnerability, but more-so in the apparent error of decision-making and how erroneous their faith in their production can go so horribly astray. The first track Of The Young opens with this sweeping low-tone murmuring of beats, a rowdy, bustling noise creeping up from the backdrop before we're greeted with the track's main rattling percussion and James Cook's less eccentric deliverance of tone. The biggest highlight is of course the focus more on guitars - something you'll come face-to-face with a lot on this record - which bend and swerve their way around Cook's vocals. And amidst the guitars, sweeping glacial synths and screaming of electronics within the midst, the track keeps a balance between its more uplifting chorus leads and the track's main electro drum build. The lack of frontal synths and electronic beats definitely suggests a change in style here, and given how the album begins quite boldly with this, it provides a nice context for Baiya to lead into. As I mentioned in my track review, there's clearly a hip-hop/RnB influence in the drumbeat's dominance in the track. And also, Delphic's famiilar use of electronically-pinged harmonies works really well in the descent of chorus hooks, even if Cook's lyrics are, I reiterate, fairly lacking in keeping a lasting effectiveness.

With Changes, piano greets us in the opening parts, as Cook harmonizes about 'changes, and the danger of those phases, and the love you lost'. A fairly sub-standard introduction which then catapults right into a much more punchier and gravel-shaded collision of drum beats and bass dubs. But it's Cook's voice that is most striking - his once somber ushering now manifesting in something of a street-wise rap charisma which feels ever the more unsuited to him. The song does shift back to its original passage of piano - accompanied later by more sainted chimes of synthesizers - but the song's primary composite of hip-hop rhythms and bass drops comes across, at the best of times, as quite uncomfortable. It's a sound, and indeed a genre, that Delphic just cannot fit themselves in, and despite any and all attempt to try and bring it back into the context of their own sound - some nice icy little chimes of synths continue to increase as the track nears its end - it feels completely dizzying in its clarity and what exactly the band are attempting to create in terms of atmosphere and feeling.

Freedom Found is one of the better experiments out into this new-found garage-esque exposition of electronics for what is more open and spacious ground. There are some space-like flurries of electronics alongside the simple shaking of percussion sounds, and Cook presents himself as more the human element of the piece. 'We're caught in the rabbit hole' he exclaims, 'You left me nowhere to go/It's taking up all my love/Your faith isn't everyone's'. And despite how simple and bare his choice of words is, the way he holds the words out aloft makes for an interesting build to where he's eventually greeted by the track's arrhythmic clamber of drums and instrumentation that, at times sounds like brass, and in others sounds like strings. And despite the track's bellowed production and somewhat tightly-packed collection of sounds and effects in its climax, the overall rhythm gives the music a nice and effective drive and edge to its emotive output. Guitars are featured once again dominantly and with clear visibility on the track Atlas which seems to combines a 2-step rhythm you'd find, again, in the likes of past garage music, and plays it almost directly against the swooning strum of guitars that accompany it. The track sways to and fro between overall clarity; lacing of echo and distortion are ran through the pairing, but it doesn't necessarily hinder any of the track's intended tension that the instrumentation provides, even if the production side of the track feels perhaps accidentally messy, and suggestive of a lack of solid finalization into where the track is intending to go.

Admittedly there are unconvincing moments on this album that make you question a material's integrity as opposed to simply its relevance. The sounds here are a lot more experimental, and anyone coming to this album without knowing the band's debut will certainly be far from guessing their debut was a lot more upbeat, and felt almost glad to embrace its pop-like execution down an electronic path. But unlike their debut, there are times when the differentiation - and there's quite a lot of it - tends to shadow what rhythm and integral appeal the band manage to sustain previous. Sure, there is focus on synthesizers and electronic-orientated sounds, but it all feels just vaguely existent, as if it's not even energized, but simply limping on for the sake of completion. The Sun Also Rises offers some decent results amid its placement of drumbeats atop Cook's vocals and carriage of his elevating tones. But again, the production of the track and how the backdrop of layered sounds just comes across rather poor and rushed, as if simply forced together and thrown into the cauldron with whatever they decided on using. Memeo likewise has much more of a drive to its deliverance and I find myself compelled even by the glitchy jittering of sounds that usher in the backdrop, against the chiming of keys upfront. Harmony certainly helps the overall integrity though, and its pop-like linger and togetherness in vocals work well to meet the intensity of the song, rather than dominate it.

But the most striking, and possibly controversial credibility-wise, of this album's shift in direction comes on the penultimate offering Don't Let The Dreamers Take You Away. Straight from the word go, the band descend from their synthesizer carriages and seemingly find themselves drifting in something of a subspace of harmony, voices elevated to their most pop-friendly extreme. The more you listen to the way the vocals sail and glide past you, the more you feel they're going to start begging you to just stay another day, perhaps. But surprisingly - given how sweet but sickly the track comes off as - Delphic manage to make it work. Away from the sailing of vocals, the music itself emerges from out its secluded drop of piano chords, into something of a recognizable ecstasy of dropped beats and mesmerizing synths that add to the mix soon after. As the track progresses, it builds up more and more momentum and the electronics gain even more weight and strength to their execution. And by the time the vocals submerge once more into a harmonic glow, the track feels overly uplifting and fulfilling.

Sadly, these moments of joy and sense of promise not only come in short supply on Collections, but rather off-putting, they appear where it feels increasingly like the band are somewhat, hesitantly, apologizing for what they've attempted, and are trying to claw the listener back into something more recognizably accessible. Unfortunately, even in such cases, production is what lets this album down. And because of the band's hesitance in giving their mixture of supposed ideas a fairly hesitant middle-of-the-road safeness, the music for the most part is forgotten as soon as it's past. Indeed, the appeal of their debut is almost non-existent - tracks feel fairly underwhelming and those that do strike a chord, are often weighed down by the accompanying sounds around it. Delphic have indeed attempted to reach out and attract more listeners to their sound. Sadly, the album suits neither the hip-hop nor the pop, nor even the rock market they somewhat force down in parts across the record. But here, even their core aesthetic ends up feeling somewhat tarnished by its mediocre execution, and given how less energized and less compelling this music comes off as, I worry how many fans will look at this album and feel an ever-growing sense of distaste from this drastic shift in direction.
~Jordan

5.3

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