Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit, 2012 – Rounder Records

“We found the sound that we’ve been looking for, that we’ve been growing into, and as soon as we hit on it, we ran with it,”  says Matthew Vasquez, when describing the maturation leading up to the refined sound on Delta Spirit’s latest output by the same name.  “That’s why it’s a self-titled record, so we could connect our identity with the album, because this album is what we think Delta Spirit is.”

Much has changed for Delta Spirit in the two years since releasing History From Below, the brilliant follow up to 2007’s equally inspired debut, Ode To Sunshine.  They returned to being a five piece after a few years as a four piece, most of the band relocated to New York City after spending the better part of their early years living blocks from one another in Long Beach, and maybe more importantly, Vasquez claims to have cut down on his smoking significantly during this time (a habit he admittedly offers, reached two packs a day at one point). So it should come as no surprise that from the very first few notes of album opener ‘Empty House,’ that the sound has changed as well.  Gone are the earthy Americana-tinged, pop-inspired tunes of old and in their place is an unrelentingly focused body of work unlike anything this band has set forth to date.  While certainly more rock-guitar heavy than previous releases, the real surprise may come in the electronic undertones sprinkled subtly throughout – most notably on heartfelt piano-driven closer, ‘Yamaha,’ which seems to pick up almost exactly where History From Below’s ‘Ballad of Vitaly’ left off.

It is a newfound direction that works.  And for a band who once scored what remains to this day a fan favorite by berating the hell out of the edge of a trash can lid on a song aptly titled ‘Trashcan,’ why wouldn’t it work?  If there is one thing I’ve learned about these guys by now, it’s that the path to success has never really lied within the chosen medium used to convey the message.  For all intents and purposes, Delta Spirit could tell me they were going to sprinkle fairy dust over their instruments and simply see what happens, and I’d probably end up pretty excited over the surefire smash to come from that experiment.  Rather, the real secret has always rested somewhere deep within the passion from which that message is relayed back to the listener; by way of the individual performances of each and every band member.  And make no mistake, this album is ripe with passion, as is evidenced fairly early with stand out rocker ‘Tear It Up,’ a tune which may go down as one of Vasquez’s finest vocal deliveries to date.

There are plenty of other gems to behold here as well.  ‘California,’ with its immensely catchy verses leading up to a rather sun-soaked, reverb induced chorus of vocal harmonies, will undoubtedly become a staple in the summer road trip catalogue of anthems for years to come; while ‘Into The Darkness’ marks the successful introduction of sleigh bells into the mix, another first for the band. ‘Home’ offers a nice half-way point to the album in a song that never really goes anywhere, but then again, never really needs to in order to be effective; while ‘Money Saves’ presents us with the rhythmic backbone of Delta Spirit, drummer Brandon Young, at his very best.

All this being said, Delta Spirit certainly didn’t drop in our laps without a couple, albeit fairly miniscule flaws.  For starters, the harmonica is missing (easily my favorite part of the signature Delta Spirit sound of old), and I can only hope that it hasn’t been hung up for good.  Then there is the song ‘Tellin’ The Mind,’ which just doesn’t seem to fit within the confines of the album as a whole, and nearly acts as a momentum killer three quarters of the way through the record.  Thankfully, ‘Time Bomb’ is there to pick up the pieces just in the knick of time, regaining control over the course of what amounts to another stand out track on the album.

As a result, this might be one for the ages, if not at a minimum, one that remains a staple in the rotation somewhere deep into the course of the summer months to come.  “People make records for their time and we wanted to make one for our time,” says Vasquez.  “Just like novelists want to write the Great American Novel, we wanted to make a Great American Record.  Not one about yesterday, but one about right now.”  It is a mission you can tell this band takes seriously.  Aiming to walk that delicately placed line of giving fans what they want, both old and new alike, while continuing to push the artistic limits of the band as a whole, yet never stepping over the edge somewhere in the process.   In what is quickly becoming a rather remarkable career, now spanning the course of three brilliantly masterful albums, it is a mission I certainly don’t see them abandoning anytime soon.

Reviewer Rating: Fucking Golden