All through university I had, as the wallpaper for my laptop, this picture of a whale, shadowed by the Herman Melville quote ‘To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme‘. It seemed appropriate for a creative writing student, but in actuality only served as a reminder of my shortcomings as an author over the duration of the course. Ho hum.
Some years later, then, the memory of what I had hoped to achieve – and surely would, reinforced by that group of motivational pixels(!) – is compounded by the mastery of Delta Sleep’s own opus, ‘Twin Galaxies’. It is a life’s work, and one which, appropriately, I’ve been waiting to hear for a painstaking while now, rooting from when I first saw them play a dusty field outside of Bristol. They’ve changed some since then, Maria is a lot taller and Adam’s cut his hair, but what of the sound?
Both EPs are musts in any record collection, and gave proof if proof be needed to early adopters that this band are something rare. Extremely smart, daring, and above all else inviting. Listen high for God tier enjoyment, your mind will trip on time signatures an average of 8.4 seconds. But whatever your vice, Delta Sleep provide a fix: drums always on cue, active but never intrusive bass, wonderful interplay between both guitars (I could go on all night about the tone too, but I’ll spare you, for now) and the warmest of voices offering the most honest of words.
A continuous narrative is oft overlooked on long-players, and this is particularly true of what’s loosely been termed ‘math rock’, where albums instead tend to act as a collection of snapshots from jams; the best noodles, the sharpest interchanges, melded into a passage of music that can be sewn up with a melodramatic title. This is, of course, no bad thing. Actually, it’s repeatedly brilliant, and we the listener do grow from the journey. But textured storytelling, delivered either by lyrical or instrumental device, is perhaps rarer than it ought to be in the genre (that or I’m not listening hard enough; the more likely scenario).
Delta Sleep have instead set out to tell a story, mythical and grand in scale, which in turn amplifies the sense that much care and consideration had been put into their first album before a guide track had even been laid. Your first is always special (so I’m told), it’s a landmark dreamed time over by any musician since first picking up a guitar and tuning to D (or whatever the equivalent for an oboist is). The clear sense that the band have been so prudent in their preparation acts as a foreword, then, asking if the listener is sitting comfortably, while the sleeve, a truly beautiful creation, makes the intrigue all the more absorbing.
The story unfolds with a jolly synth, evoking images of an 8-bit tug boat bobbing the ocean blue, before ‘Uncle Ivan’ bursts in and wrecks the calm as well he might, the slippery swine. I’m going out on a limb (or eight) here by saying Ivan is the fabled octopus which ominously stalks the LP’s cover. I could go further and say said squid is a manifestation of the vocalist’s fears and hardships, an enormous dark looming which our protagonist sets out to slay in search of catharsis over the course of the tale, but I won’t.
What do I know?
Well, what I do know is that the tempo and intensity of the track represents the melancholy of the beast justly – he’s a formidable foe – and the listener can’t help but fear for choppy waters ahead. That is until ’21 Letters’ floats in like a soothing flannel to a minor burn. Math rock heads will get a buzz from the opening riff no doubt, it’s one of those that you’ll remember where you were the first time it entered you consciousness.
It’s not all plain sailing, however. The latter half of Letters is more hostile than ‘Uncle Ivan’ before it, and is executed perfectly in fits and starts of schizophrenic chord progression. Real wizardry. It’s borderline ridiculous how tight Delta Sleep are (and always have been), more so when you witness it live. There’s a lot going on but they’re always in control, a safety net to the listener in a storm such as this. But the clouds soon part and the dawn-light harmonics of ‘Aspetta’ slowly, mercifully, start to form.
‘Lake Sprinkle Sprankle’ was selected to whet the appetite for Twin Galaxies a month or two ago, with a video that oozed Look Around You pastiche (write that down). Devin’s put a lot of himself into this record, and on the track above all others it’s telling, and in parts downright heartbreaking. Lake charts one of the ultimate human lows, grappling with loss and consequently longing;
‘Staring at paintings, recounting the places we’ve been together, I tried to escape but I can’t seem to shake all these pictures of us’
…culminating in the need to submerge oneself.
The track which then follows is an important moment in the plot, as the weight becomes intolerable and the necessity for action unbearable; ‘Awake to find the water rushing in through cracks in the ceiling, grab your oxygen and leave everything behind.’
‘Spy Turtles’ is a beautiful moment of reflection, and serves as a transition from being consumed by woe to upping and facing the very cause. This is never easy. Turtles also acts as a reminder that Delta Sleep can do more than just the absurd guitar stuff, and is a really nice nod to the earlier electronic work Maria influenced before she had to leave. The concept of turtles watching your back, ‘spotting you for sharks’ as you transcend into the water is truly charming, too.
Next, ‘Spy Dolphins’ is the pick of the bunch if you’re listening to tracks in isolation, which you’re not. The closing half echoes Meet Me in St.Louis‘s ‘I’ve Got knives in My Eyes…’, before it ebbs, then crashes back in twice as hard. Over a week of daily listening and this still hasn’t gotten old, a high-water mark indeed.
‘Daniel Craig David’ is, other than a brilliant title, a change in the tide as earlier strains start to fade away, with ‘the door to the house washed up on the shore’. It’s cleansing, no less because of its juxtaposition with the earlier reference ‘Lately I’ve listed the reasons why I can’t move on and why I sleep in the house that we lived in for over three years now’. The shackles are being shaken loose, and this is reflected in the almost celebratory tone of this track.
This optimism may be ultimately short-lived, however, as our raconteur drifts the ocean on the remnants of a former home. ‘Daniel Craig David’ bleeds into ‘Hungry For Love’, which is essentially the song ‘Feel Good Hit For The Summer’ wanted to be, but without the rockstar bravado. Instrumentally, this is Delta Sleep at their prime, in full flow and majestically so.
All of which leads us to ‘Strongthany’, the saga’s conclusion (which will have a lovely live-performance video soon if the grapevine is to be trusted). What of this in relation to the odyssey? Well, I’ll leave it for you to decide, partially because I don’t have spoilers tags, but mostly because you should.
What I can say is that there’s nothing negative to say about Delta Sleep, and this record, so long in the making, is worth every second.
In plain English, this is the greatest book you’ll never read.