Release Date: Mar 13, 2012
Record label: Rounder
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Country-Rock
Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez was the wild card on last year's Middle Brother LP, the singer/songwriter project with Dawes traditionalist Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick wildman John McCauley. The transitional third record by Vasquez's main band pushes their roots-minded songs into bed with electronic toys, where they assume nifty positions: the invisible chorus of "California," the magnified vocal tics on "Tellin' The Mind," which connect Little Richard and Rahzel. The synthetic colors can seem superfluous, nodding to an indie-rock era where textural novelty often trumps songcraft.
On its self-titled third album, San Diego quintet Delta Spirit takes the vibrant energy of its rousing rock to a whole other level. Ascendant four-part harmonies on top of drum-machine samples and soaring guitars make for an earnest, ragged attack that’s at once familiar and timeless. There’s some Springsteen in the sing-along choruses, some Neil Young in the quieter moments.
Delta Spirit’s mystique has always been rooted in their contradictions. Their name evokes images of the old, scary South of blues and curses, but the band hails from the ocean-cooled climes of California—far away from deals with the devil and sweaty juke joints. Their music often tends towards the gritty and freewheeling, yet they also have a knack for crafting delicate gems: “Trashcan” features barrelhouse piano and, yes, a percussive trashcan while “Scarecrow” is pastoral pop, replete with rolling folk guitar and chirping birds.
Delta SpiritDelta Spirit[Rounder Records; 2012]By Henry Hauser; March 15, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetHoping to break free from that "rootsy Americana" label with which critics love to pigeonhole Delta Spirit, singer and frontman Matt Vasquez explains that the San Diego rockers are out to encapsulate the zeitgeist on their eponymous 3rd LP. Yet, even after enlisting vogue producer Chris Coady (Smith Westerns, Beach House, Islands) to help shake up the band’s sound, Delta Spirit merely tweaks the vibe of their previous offerings. A laudable blend of socially-conscious lyrics, kinetic guitar riffs, and scorching vocals, the album nonetheless falls short of establishing Delta Spirit as a trailblazing modern rock band.
Delta Spirit first caught attention with the folk-tinged rock on their debut record Ode to Sunshine, an album characterized with an abundance of energy and soul. They’ve since found brethren in bands of a feather like Deer Tick and Dawes (with the lead singers of all three bands forming the supergroup Middle Brother) and enjoyed critical acclaim and a supportive fan base. But despite being described as having a “twangy” or “country rock” sound, the band has always really felt that their music didn’t quite reflect the style that they intended to deliver, that they were still growing into themselves, so to speak.
Nearly a year ago, Delta Spirit told Rolling Stone that they were sick of being pigeonholed in the Americana genre. For the Long Beach, CA rockers’ at the time untitled third album, they planned on incorporating their “love of hip-hop, the ‘90s, progressive production,” finding slow jams “closer to Montell Jordan than Neil Young,” according to multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich. His off-the-cuff remark belies how seriously the band takes itself on Delta Spirit.
Delta Spirit's third full-length, a gauzy self-titled effort on Rounder Records, finds the band continuing ahead after changing their lineup for History from Below and making a move from Long Beach to Brooklyn. The city's influences are readily apparent, with Afro-pop guitar lines that mirror Yeasayer or Vampire Weekend, and there is an added upbeat edge to the simple Americana melodies of their previous records. Still, Delta Spirit is an album of conventional, accessible material.
The first album by Delta Spirit, Ode to Sunshine, contained a lot of energy, a nice antidote to some of the lethargic indie pop of the time. It was a pleasing enough record, but the follow-up, 2010's History From Below, fell flat. Their third, self-titled, full-length finds the band unable to rise out of their own formulas. .
Self-titled albums can sometimes feel narcissistic, as if nothing stands for the band better than its own name. In the case of Delta Spirit’s latest album, nothing suits it better because this feels like a self-defining album. The band switched out guitar player Sean Walker for Will McLaren, took on the help of producer Chris Coady, who has worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio, Beach House and the Smith Westerns, gathered its instruments for a retreat/recording session at the converted 1896 church Dreamland in Woodstock and produced a more concrete, rock-leaning sound.
Album No. 3 marks a big step forward for Californian quintet Delta Spirit. Whether you'll follow where they're headed depends on your taste in modern rock. Bands like My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon took a couple of tries to reach the audience and sound they wanted, and so it might be with Delta Spirit.
Delta Spirit is a band poised for arena rock – a statement, depending on your perspective, that is at once the most thrilling and damning thing that can be said about a band. It has implications denoting a band’s well-deserved success but connotes the possibility and inevitability of a loss of audience intimacy, intimacy that a band like Delta Spirit has been carefully building over the years. Nevertheless Matt Vasquez and company seem, finally, on the verge of something big – on the precipice between relative (but far from complete) popular obscurity and hard-fought (and wide) public acclaim.