Artist: Delta Spirit

Album: Delta Spirit

Delta Spirit ‘s Matthew Vasquez sings with a twang, and their rock music has strong heartland folk/country leanings. I’m told this was even truer on their first two albums, which had titles; Delta Spirit is their third, and shows an, apparently new, interest in keyboards and mild Delta-Spiritelectronic beats. That’s not what you’d notice first.

Me, I noticed the drummer first. I’m not sure whether Brandon Young is unusually good — his choppy, intricate pounding on Otherside is his closest thing to a showcase — but his fast steady kick/snare pulses and fills are mixed loud, and vary enough to keep the rock songs distinct. The guitars ring out thickly, as close to college rock radio as to John Mellencamp, and have no fear of surging power chords. The guitar and drums often strongly suggest, for me, Jimmy Eat World making their version of a TV on the Radio album, accumulating force steadily over the course of the song instead of blowing it all in the choruses.

The reviews I’ve seen mostly downgrade the Delta Spirit tracks that deviate from this style. Ideologically, I disagree: trying new things is always something we should want artists to be eager to do. In practice, I’ll agree that I find the results mixed. The frantic Tellin’ the Mind is excellent, I think: the ululations, organ, beatboxing, the rhythmic tugging of the vocals. Time Bomb is pure Arcade Fire, starting out spare and ending up massive, gorgeous and resonant with keyboards and echoing drum thumps (and drum machine too, I think). Then again, the slow electric piano and drawn-out synthesizer notes of Home and Yamaha are simple-minded, and while I find them pretty, I don’t find them involving. Delta Spirit‘s melodies are fine when the energy level is high, but lack the personality to carry a song.


What I *do* find involving are the lyrics. These aren’t, unfortunately, songs that lend themselves to a brilliant quoted phrase or two; like the music, the words here accumulate their meaning as they unfold over three or four minutes. On the one hand, as a reviewer, I shouldn’t mistake myself for a lyrics site (it’s always awkward when drops by my house with misdelivered Christmas presents that had been meant for me; and as annoying as I find it when my dinner guests expect‘s pet tortoises to be there hopping onto the sofa, she’s just as annoyed when her guests expect my cats to be around staring balefully at them). On the other hand, I can’t resist offering examples in case you see what I see in these texts.

There’s Home‘s ever-modulating balance among idealism, friendship, anger at the world and anger at himself: “Beaten like a rug, ashed out and clubbed, well, it’s all for my betterment/ I’ll give you a rib, with the marrow dried up/ It’s not much but a widow’s gift./ But in the right rays of the sun, if you squint hard enough, there can only be one like it/ I’d write you a song, for all men to be one, but I’d sing it from a place of pride… Drug in by the reign, of the crooked ways I think, I wish I was in the mood to die/ Well life it is good, no matter how far you sink, sometimes sitting still is better than to try/ When you’re down in a hole, when your heart’s weighed down by gold, there’s a hand that can reach you there”.

Yamaha and California are matched songs to an ex, with a hard-fought balance of apologies and benevolence: “Now you’re dealing with the hell I put you through/ If I had my way I’d be right there with you/ There’s certain things in life you cannot change/ I hope you know I care”, joining “I want you to wander silent past my outstretched arms/ I want you to hide yourself from all I see/ And though my heart will fight until its dying breath/ You’re not for me … I want you to go out there and find somebody else/ I want him to treat you like I know he should”. Meanwhile, nicely-chosen details support the wounded idealism of Empty House‘s “How could one little speck/ make a difference to the rest?/ Well it doesn’t: no one cared except me”.

If Tellin’ My Mind is a brief, eloquent tantrum — “It took the final straw that broke across my back. And as the others watched, they all refused to lend a hand/ I have been taking notes of when you come and when you leave. I sneak out in the night and take everything I need/ Tellin’ the mind just what I have to do” is the complete text — I can report from experience that sometimes idealism and benevolence need to take breaks. Plus hey, it’s rock’n’roll. Delta Spirit stick those words in the middle of the album, not the end. They’re a fun aberration; they don’t, over the course of Delta Spirit, get to define things.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!