ALBUM REVIEW: Morgan Delt “Morgan Delt”

“I think we’ve become stuck in time and everything is going to happen all at once from now on,” Morgan Delt has commented, regarding the resurgence of sixties and seventies influences in the impressive amount of psychedelic- music coming out today. It’s an interesting phenomenon, one that gets more prevalent all the time–new music sounding like it’s from an old decade–and it’s not just one era new music is channeling, it’s all of them: eighties and nineties throwbacks occur almost as often as sixties and seventies throwbacks do. What makes Delt’s self-titled debut, out yesterday on Trouble In Mind Records, interesting isn’t his carefree-Californian psych-rocker theme, it’s the way he goes about making that theme happen in the music.

At the very beginning of last year, Delt released a 6-track cassette called Psychic Death Hole. Being on the short side, it didn’t do anywhere near justice to Delt’s potential for scope, but it did do a pretty good job of convincing everyone who listened to it that he could do sixties psych-pop. The familial resemblance was blandly straightforward, though, like Delt had copy and pasted straight out of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra songbook. This isn’t to imply that the music had no imagination of its own, just that it wore its influence on its sleeve very conventionally. No one could have extrapolated anything about psychedelic music from hearing Psychic Death Hole that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

Morgan Delt was finally released yesterday, after a couple of track teasers that left the AudioFemmes of wintry New York salivating for a sunnier climate (here and here). It’s an intricate album, very colorful and intelligently orchestrated. There’s plenty on here to recall the sixties, too, although many of the bells, whistles and ambient noise that turn up between those smoky hooks come off surprisingly futuristic. Time collapses, and musical memories aren’t presented in terms of narrative or chronology. Instead, Delt rips up all his idols into confetti, tosses them in the air, and makes it rain. The resulting mosaic is what he knits together out of the snippets.

Delt’s method of picking and choosing–with a greater fidelity to his own project than to any of the influences he cites–suggests self-portraiture: he’s tying the album together based near-solely on his own vision, despite the genre turf he treads. There’s certainly enough space on this album–unlike the preceding cassette–to get a long look at its creator. “Morgan Delt’s debut LP expands on [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Psychic Death Hole‘s] tracks and brings forth a fully realized glimpse into the California native’s twisted brain,” reads the album notes. If that’s true, I don’t think Delt’s brain is all that twisted–it’s a whimsical album with a lot of color, but is overall pretty lighthearted. And the textures on this album–the crisp instrumentals on “Mr. Carbon Copy,” the melty smear of vocals on “Sad Sad Trip”–are delightful to listen to.

It’s interesting, though, to think that self-portraiture emerges out of a lack of alignment with chronological history–that, having liberated his songwriting of narrative continuity, Delt could create a collage that, taken altogether, approximates the inside of his brain. I’m not totally sold on this theory. The album may not be memoir,  but at the very least, Morgan Delt is a fully-realized glimpse of something.

What do you think? You can buy Morgan Delt’s self-titled album here, and listen to “Obstacle Eyes” below

ALBUM REVIEW: New Electric Ride “Balloon Age”

The dream of acid-era Beatles pop is alive in UK quartet New Electric Ride, whose debut full-length Balloon Age will be out February 25th via Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Balloon Age checks all the boxes: the hooks are tight, the love songs are cute, and the ear-happy vocal harmonies share spotlight with spooky, tripped-out psychedelia.

It may be pastiche, but it’s well-executed pastiche. Balloon Age‘s appealingly jumpy transitions and instrumental menagerie takes us on a whiplash-ride through the sixties, all its incense and dripping surreality. Familiar life in the exterior world gives way, when you least expect it, to the twisty tunnels inside your head. The catchiest songs on this album exhibit such skillfully laid care that it barely matters that they’re derivative; the bluesy and round-like “I Feel So Excited” stands out not for originality but for, at just under a minute long, hitting a bulls-eye with a formula so well-worn that it’s hard to compellingly pull off. Particularly on the second half of the album, New Electric Ride demonstrates not only a deep saturation in the genre but also the fresh enthusiasm they have for this kind of music, even if, to all appearances, it’s been done to death. The quartet’s loyalty lies unquestionably with songs, and the album can be best understood as a lovingly assembled collection of details and imagery.

It’s in these details that you’ll see New Electric Ride’s contemporariness. “Isn’t it mean how no one can dream about writing a submarine song anymore?” warbles the wistful chorus to “A Submarine Song.” This might be the first time I’ve been happy to discover that a band’s being meta —if they weren’t, they wouldn’t just be taking inspiration from The Beatles, they’d be flat-out ripping them off. “A Submarine Song” teems with whimsical images—including the central one—straight out of the original Submarine song, with an “I Am The Walrus” intro and a bit of “Strawberry Fields” thrown in for spice. The pervasiveness of sixties pop, the song argues, makes it difficult to return to its ideals in new music. Echoing with repetitions of the line “have you heard this tale before,” New Electric Ride pays homage to a sub-genre whose very greatness closes off its vivid imagery and singular direction to new bands.

2013 was a good year for psychedelia. It seemed like everywhere new bands with weird scale patterns and inscrutable lyrics were springing up to push their experiment in unexpected directions, as though it weren’t so much a genre as a way of looking at all kinds of music. Long, layered rock patterns jammed and droned and forewent choruses. Elsewhere, other groups, like The Entrance Band, used heady and occasionally unfriendly tendencies to explore more psychological turf, using the music as metaphor for a excavation of the depths within their heads. Either way, when it was successful, the music’s form felt like a traveling companion, on albums that could be taken as long, exploratory journeys. At the end of a good psych album, I always feel a little drained.

And that, I think, gets at what I don’t like about Balloon Age. The way that New Electric Ride employs psychedelic pop doesn’t have as much to do with their musical experience as it does the experience of the music they’re imitating. It’s not used as a vehicle on this album, it’s a recreation of how sixties groups used it as a vehicle. Or, to put it another way: it’s not a spaceship—it’s a picture of a spaceship, drawn by a really skilled portrait artist.

Balloon Age comes out February 25th on Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Until then, you can get your New Electric Ride fix with “Bring What You Expect To Get,” via SoundCloud!

ALBUM REVIEW: Gringo Star “Float Out To See”


Though the world is hardly hurting for sixties-inspired doo-wop indie rock, Gringo Star‘s latest release, Floating Out To See, skews rock and roll in an irrepressibly colorful direction that’s too much fun not to pay attention to. Brothers Nicholas and Peter Furgiuele grew up raiding their parents’ record collection, and it shows: the Atlanta-based trio composed of the two brothers and, most recently, multi-instrumentalist Chris Kaufmann repurpose sunny riffs and hummable harmonies from sixties rock. Sometimes, their music could fit right onto a record from that decade, but more often a Gringo Star song feels like more than imitation: they recall the atmosphere of blissful excitement behind a Beach Boys song or a Turtles song, but along with evocative chord progressions and a generous helping of reverb, Gringo Star mix in plenty of modern-day psychedelic bells and whistles to bring off the finish.

The name, in fact, is not a Beatles reference. As the group told one interviewer a couple of years ago, it’s inspired by Mexican slang they’d picked up working in kitchens. That anecdote gives you a decent idea of what to expect going into Floating Out To See: the project was entirely DIY, the first of the group’s three albums to be put together without a producer, and the tracks on this thing are short, catchy, and crackling. The album sounds like a brilliantly half-baked bid for glory, but if you listen closer, the distortion on this record cloaks a lot of melodic detail and very strong musicianship. It’s as if Gringo Star wants to make simply-constructed instant hits, but can’t resist slipping him an extra riff or harmony here and there.

Then there are the unexpected instrumental breaks that pepper this album. Though they don’t seem to fit into the rest of the music at all, the musical lines are a pleasure to listen to, both on their own and laid over the rest of the band. The first song on this album, “In The Heat,” barely sees a vocal line, instead giving itself over to an easy beat that saunters through the track from start to finish. It’s an unpredictable opener for a band like Gringo Star, and although so many of the group’s beats and harmonies are well-worn, it’s only one of the ways in which Float Out To See defies expectations. Six tracks in, “Satisfy My Mind” melts from a fast-paced cut-and-copy rock number into an extended drum solo, which lasts for a solid thirty seconds.

With tightly controlled musicality, the album speeds up, and slows down, and speeds up again. Sometimes brooding, sometimes barely containing its excitement, Float Out To See contains an impressive number of elegant shifts in mood and intent. Gringo Star hits a gorgeous balance of immaturity and sophistication here, which, hopefully, will afford them room to experiment for many albums to come.

Find Gringo Star on Facebook, and watch the music video for “Find A Love,” off Floating Out To See, here:



Karen Dalton’s mystique, largely a product of her personal misfortunate, makes her an easy candidate for legend: it’s fun to imagine her, half Irish, half Cherokee, in a wooly, bohemian large-pocketed coat, Dalton had thick dark bangs and two missing bottom teeth knocked out when she got between two fighting boyfriends, and spent the sixties wandering Greenwich Village, palling around with Bob Dylan and enchanting tiny apartments full of literati with her banjo and her incomparable voice.

Most often liked to a folksy Billy Holday, Dalton’s voice is bluesy and husky, perfectly timed, but especially haunting for the sadness behind it. Dalton was criminally overlooked during her lifetime, and barely recorded, both because of her inconsistencies with the kind of pop music that got signed at the time and because of her own stubbornness and famous refusal to perform. The story of how her debut album, It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best, was made has become a legend unto itself:a friend tricked her into playing the songs, and secretly recorded the performance. Dalton released that album and one other, In My Own Time, and then disappeared off the scene. She struggled with drug use until her death from AIDS in 1993.

In My Own Time, released initially in 1971 and then again in 2006, epitomizes something of the intimacy and romance that had haunted her voice on It’s So Hard. The record was undoubtedly more comfortable, and Dalton’s experiments into the bluesier aspects of her voice (“When A Man Loves A Woman”), which even switches some of the lyrics of that song around to fit a female protagonist, feel natural alongside the beautifully archaic banjo-based tune “Katie Cruel.” Then there’s “Take Me,” a simple, heart-shattering song built around fermatas and soul, that hits a new peak of earnestness in Dalton’s career. However, the most memorable track on this album, for me, is the first one, “Something On Your Mind.”

The mythologizing of Karen Dalton, as much as it skews the life it imagines, lets you take the music for your own, and so it is with this song. “Something On Your Mind,” honest and comforting, utilizes a set of lyrics just vague enough to apply to anything—Yesterday, anyway you made it was just fine/So you turned your days into nighttime/Didn’t you know you can’t make it without ever even trying? And something’s on your mind, isn’t it—and cutting enough to feel like a conversation. More than thirty years after the song was recorded, “Something On Your Mind” is balm for the wounds of the lonely two thirty AM subway rider, the recently dumped or the recently unemployed, the weary traveler, or the woolen-jacketed wanderer through a snowy Greenwich village. Her voice, an acute blend of lonely weariness and deep strength, sounds like nothing to come out before or since.

Take a listen to “Something On Your Mind,” off In My Own Time, below: