Autonomy can be scary. Occasionally, it pays off. Delta Sleep’s third LP, Spring Island, is their first on their own label, Sofa Boy, and the step to total independence has coincided with the creation of their most mature, beguiling, and best record to date.
They still exist in the space where intricate math rock time signatures collide with anthemic melodies – a rare feat, it would seem, in a genre where technical excellence is often favoured over hooks. The twin guitar assault of Glen Hodgson and Devin Yüceil still combine exquisitely, playing seemingly simplistic riffs that shouldn’t work together, yet always do. On Spring Island, it’s noticeable that Blake Mostyn’s drumming and Dave Jackson’s bass playing are both a little more restrained than on previous releases, and this more constrained demeanour pays dividends on the record as a whole.
The album opens in a whir of noises before Yüceil’s plaintive vocals sing “I’ve been dreaming / About leaving / The house”. This is a space we’ve all been in over the last 18 months or more – but for the next 18 months we’ll all have an earworm of ‘Cal-CU-la-ting” going around our heads. It’s a word delivered with such singularity on the opening “Water Fall” that it will soon be a code signal between hipsters with non-ironic bad facial hair and beanie hats. This track is a contemplative prelude, a mood setter for a band now less positive in their musical euphoria.
Both of the next two tracks, “The Detail” and “View to a Fill”, are stunning, combining lyrics about anxiety, solace, and insecurity with Delta Sleep’s signature stop-start and angular song writing. The former is the very essence of the band’s career to date – soaring vocals, authentic lyric writing, and majestic musicianship. The latter has a restrained quality that’s often lacking for a math rock act, and with this track there’s a feeling that the ghost of the band’s influences (most notably American Football’s one truly outstanding song, “Never Meant”) are being surpassed. Delta Sleep have always had a knack of creating introspective sing-alongs, and this could be the best of the bunch.
Spring Island wanders into new territory for the band, and not always successfully. The one blip, “Forest Fire” is sumptuous in its production, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere musically, even if it does sonically. It feels more like a decent idea executed reasonably well, which is a shame for a band who usually knock everything out of the park at a breeze. It’s harsh to criticise a band against their own high standards, perhaps, but Delta Sleep have always been a band to provide clear evidence of an upward artistic trajectory, whereas “Forest Fire” feels like a placeholder.
“Old Soul” is another career highlight on a record of career highlights. It sounds like Fugazi getting taught a lesson in song writing by The Pixies – an unexpected but welcome combination that none of us knew we needed. It’s a soaring song of personal reflection, an ode to the days of carefree youthful abandon when none of us realised how good we had it. This isn’t a self-pitying cry against age, but a call to dream and “build a future for all our kids to sing and breathe”. There’s no point in looking back with regret as opposed to being thankful those times happened, and will happen again for our children. The track highlights ideas of solidarity and community in the face of alienation and loneliness. Collective action (and inaction) to stave off the isolation of existential angst. And, maybe more importantly for the more casual listener, it’s a pure holler-along anthem.
Spring Island sees Delta Sleep in a more contemplative mood than their work to date. But, hey – that’s not much of a surprise when we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. The humanity at the centre of the band, that quality that makes them so relatable and so much fun, is laid bare, emotional scars and all.
A cracking record, all in all. And you won’t hear a more wonderfully emo lyric this decade than “Planet Fantastic”‘s repeated refrain of “indifferent and numb as we bury our loved ones”.