It’s all Greek to me

As you may know, I was hotly anticipating the Delphic record, having been impressed with “Counterpoint”. Well, I picked up Acolyte on the day it was released (going into a “record shop” to “buy” a “compact disc” in some kind of renaissance fair re-enactment of what it used to be like to be a music fan) and thoroughly enjoyed it when I got home and cranked it through the B&Ws in the livingroom. And also through the AKGs when at the computer, and through the Portapros when walking to work. But despite its success in three different contexts, it’s left me… a little cold, perhaps?

What I was really after, I think, was that kind of end-of-the-night house music that’s sent simultaneously melancholic/transcendental shivers of bliss down my spine for about 14 years, and Delphic, while displaying some of the anonymity of mid-90s techno super-duos which seems to be intricately linked with that sensation in their faceless, accountant-esque sartorial direction, didn’t quite hit it. There are tunes, certainly, and plenty of them earwormed their way into my head over the course of only a couple of exposures which is always a sign of good pop that avoids “sunk costs”, and there are also thrillingly propulsive and sense-swirling passages of music that are, and have no doubt about this, fully dance / electronic in nature, and not some kind of tokenistic indieboy head-nod towards in the name of eclectic hipsterism. The title track, for instance, is really not the work of an “indie” band; there is piss-all here in common with Arcade Fire or The Strokes, even if there may be, very very slightly, with Animal Collective. That “indie” or “rock” and “dance” have a difficult history of failed fusion attempts is just a lie at this point anyway, an easy crowbar for lazy, received-wisdom-touting journalists/hipsters/idiots to wave as a signifier of authority in an argument based on a false dichotomy.

But even so, beyond genre discussions, something about Delphic doesn’t _quite_ click with me. Maybe it is the vaguely vacant vocal delivery, the lack of demonstrable personality in aid of subservience to “the dance”? Karl Hyde managed to keep some personality though, didn’t he? Or were his abstrusely delivered comments more about adding further distance between regular human behaviour and the great mechanistic propulsion? If you can’t understand the words they may as well be delivered by a robot?

No. Delphic are lacking two things; beauty and groove. Beauty both musically, sensationally, and also emotionally; while there are a number of head-spinning moments none of them are quite as simultaneously blissful and thrilling as, say, that weird pulse that tremors through “Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You”, or the heartbeat beat that opens “The Girl With The Sun In Her Head”, or, to get more recent, the cold, dappled, concentric guitar loops and synth stabs that patina “When I Grow Up”. Emotionally, too, there’s nothing as rousing as “Voodoo People” or as humbling as “Halcyon+On+On”, as elating as the yelps that puncture “My Girls”, as decompressing as “Someone Great”, as wistful as “All My Friends”. That those last two come back-to-back on the same album is a humbling point here, I think; anyone who says dance music is cold and unemotional is a liar; anyone who says dance and rock can’t live together is a liar. Delphic affirm the latter but not, so much, the former.

As for the groove thing; Delphic are definitely propulsive, and defiantly dancefloor-focused, but they’re also stuck at a frustrating midpoint between libertarian elasticity and fascistic mechanism when it comes to their actual rhythms. Neither as spastically irresistible as “House of Jealous Lovers” or as autistically undeniable as “La Rock 01”; there’s no sense that these momentums would, or could, last forever. Delphic simply drive forward until they get to a destination, and then they stop; a great groove either winds, and sashays, and takes in different areas of topography, flexing and moving organically, or else it knows no obstacle, and never ends.

I don’t means to come across as if I’m dismissing Delphic here; it’s early days still, very much so, and, as I said, some of the tunes are undeniable and I still have an urge to revisit Acolyte which may well reveal that my criticisms, if they are criticisms, are incorrect. Now that I’m not a critic anymore, I’m more than accepting of my right to be wrong. It’s just that the urge to listen to Acolyte again isn’t a compulsion, and I had hoped it might be.

Three things that I do feel a compulsion to listen to again, though, are the new Four Tet album, the new Spoon album, and last year’s Fever Ray album, which, when added together, provide me with a substantial, sustained hit of what I was looking for with the Delphic album. More about each later, perhaps.

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