16 March 2010

The Delta Mirror: "Machines That Listen"

This is a band that is self-described as being conceived through the fragments – remnants – of the past, from hip-hop to shoegaze. The Delta Mirror, an American trio hailing from Los Angeles, CA (composed of David Bolt, Craig Gordon, and Karrie K.) make good on this self-description on their debut “Machines That Listen” (16 March 2010). What more, when writing this album, they did not just conceive of a sonic motif, keeping themselves in a predetermined range of sound, or a thematic motif, like love, hate, or despair, they took the album to anther level: this is interwoven narratives of different rooms in one hospital. Concept albums are rare, good concept albums even rarer, but “Machines That Listen” not only meets the mark, this is an album that is strong as a “concept album” or individual tracks – or any combination of the two.

Not holding strong to any genre, the music has this constant tension of being neither dance nor lounge, neither ethereal nor concrete; it is in this sonic struggle for this or that, that the music gains so much visceral power. Keeping to their theme, it is like being at a hospital; hope and despair and acceptance collapse into one another, creating a niche of its own. As with the album, all these strands of music conspire together, from the ethereal dream pop to the danceable IDM, from the loungey downtempo to the anxious shoegaze; this is an experience of catharsis, and building of a powerful undertow that only fades after the experience is over.

Opening with an instrumental, “It Was Dark And I Welcomed The Calm,” you get the first clue that this is an album meant to be listened to at high volumes, as you will lose all of the small nuances and sounds at standard volumes. The second track, “And The Radio Played On,” is the first introduction to vocals: “She knew that they didn’t have a lot of time left. The doctors say, ‘Might not be able to make it through the week.’ But it sure was enough knowing that she was with him; sure was enough knowing that he wasn’t alone.” The narrative of what seems to be wife with her husband in the hospital, experiencing his ultimate decline, the entire narrative hinges on the fact that she would not play the radio, as she does not want to miss his last words. At their best when not following any formula or cues that most bands do, the third track, “Going To Town,” is the prime example of thinking outside of normal formulas. With no obvious verse-chorus breakdowns, the song lunges forward in much the same way that The Cure’s “Fascination Street” does – with an awkward beat and minimalist melody that in part is composed and accompanied by just noise, and lyrics that are not always logical, what makes the song stand out is that it challenges your expectation as you listen: when will the beat drop? Where is the chorus? And it is that kind of unexpected experience that just hooks you.

I could easily go through each track, like describing “He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You” as being the sonic equivalent of a long sigh, or “Hold Me Down Just Don’t Let Me Go” as a the sonic equivalent of a horrific scene in slow motion. And that is another great aspect of this album, the cinematic quality of the music. It is almost as if the music is an accompaniment to a silent film.

Through and through, this is an album devoid of filler, devoid of clichés, and devoid to complacency. There are few things that make for great albums; they usually possess a universal depth that is not refutable or ignorable, they usually do not adhere to the rules of what is expected completely or at all, and of course, timing. Can we all relate to that hospital experiences of “Machines That Listen”? Check. Does The Delta Mirror hold steady to the rules? No, so another check. Timing? Well, in a scene aching for something other than post-punk/new wave/electropop revival and indie rock angst, Delta Mirror may just have something on offer that many of us have been waiting for.

Track Listing:
1. It Was Dark And I Welcome The Calm
2. And The Radio Played On
3. Going To Town
4. He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You
5. A Room For Waiting
6. Hold Me Down, But Don’t Let Me Go
7. Malpractice
8. We Got It All
9. A Song About The End

Keep up with The Delta Mirror at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is a live performance of “It Was Dark And I Welcome The Calm” from their YouTube Channel: TheDeltaMirror.

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