Release Date: Jan 25, 2011
Record label: Luaka Bop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
Bewildering and uplifting, Delicate Steve makes a beautifully realized debut on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label with Wondervisions. The brainchild of songwriter Steve Marion, the album delicately combines the textural pop of Animal Collective with the experimental, African-influenced rhythms of the Dirty Projectors, creating a sound that manages to be both sonically dense and breezy. This combination makes for an album that is able to always be interesting and rewarding without being difficult, focusing more on the listening experience than on academic barriers to entry, allowing listeners to just enjoy what it has to offer without making them feel like they need to worry about complex mathematical schemes and musical theory.
When one of Felix Mendelssohn’s friends approached the romantic composer about setting his Songs without Words to text, he refused not because he wanted to protect their abstraction, but because their wordlessness gave them, in his mind, a more powerful immediacy. Indeed, it is the task of the instrumental composer, from the mixing board to the film score, to make her music expressive without the use of concrete meaning made possible by lyrics. Wordless music, at its best, evolves its own language of feeling without resorting to mathematical correspondences or empty suggestiveness.
The irony of Delicate Steve’s name becomes apparent just a few bars into the band’s debut, Wondervisions: Their mostly instrumental arrangements may be fussy and multifaceted, but they’re built around muscular electric guitar riffs and African tribal rhythms that are anything but delicate. Though the five-piece band immediately invites comparisons to acts like Battles and Holy Fuck, there’s a keen pop sensibility to Wondervisions‘s songs that makes the album accessible and relatively light. It’s intricate, sure, but it doesn’t go all math rock.
Every time I put on Wondervisions, the new Delicate Steve album, it sounds different, with each spin bringing new melodies and rhythms to the surface. The album as a whole remains a marvel, but it never seems the same way twice. It’s almost like a kaleidoscope, with multiple layers of sound tumbling into and out of brightly-colored patterns. But that’s the wrong metaphor — too mechanical.
Wondervisions is an eclectic combination of fuzzy psychedelia and pop sensibility — think an instrumental, collaborative pairing of Robert Fripp and Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors — though not the sort of sensibility which would see one inclined to include such norms as ‘vocals’ and ‘structure.’ There’s structure, but it’s all been twisted about and bent out of shape in the best of ways. It should come as no real surprise that Wondervisions, then, is being re-released by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. It made its debut in 2009 and is now being given new life.