Thursday, 14 January 2010

Delphic - Acolyte Album Review (2010)

Mixing the guitar indie approach with electronic ideals, Delphic is not the most typical of Manchester bands. A city soaked in musical heritage boasting the mighty Oasis, The Smiths and Happy Mondays as well as the iconic record label Factory, Delphic already has much to live up to. But unlike Kasabian who inject a Gallagher-esque swagger into everything, these guys are providing a much more subdued and chilled-out delivery. And it’s a refreshing change. The debut album Acolyte has immediately kick-started the year in the same way the White Lies did in early 2009. Both bands made the BBC Sound of the year and on the strength of Acolyte, Delphic reinforce a well-deserved third place in the list.

Acolyte is centred round the magnificent title track, nearly nine minutes of shimmering swirling synths and strings. The song builds slowly for the first minute before exploding into a thumping rave. A quieter interlude brings back the pulsating beats and intricate distant wordless vocals before an acute change of direction into the world of 8-bit computer soundtracks and the mesmerising soundscape shifts to the halfway point gliding ethereally through the song’s rhythmic centre. The looping keyboards announce a new transcendence just at the right time and soar upwards for a rousing finish, as more choral vocals force through to what emerges as an anti-climactic breath-catching last minute. Superb.

This is somewhat of an exception to a rule as much of Acolyte’s other finest moments are more straightforward electro-pop. What Delphic manage to do is keep things engaging and fresh, never tired and soulless. Recent single Doubt is a great example of fusing ideas, structures and textures with plenty of breathing space. Front man James Cook has a distinct style and vocal delivery; half singing, half speaking with an urgency not unlike Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke. It is not really about the words for Delphic but more about musical style and feelings. Likewise This Momentary drifts from soft harmonious repetitious beginnings to hard-edged stomp and back again without breaking sweat, a gorgeous hypnotic vocal washing through everything. Opener Clarion Call sets the scene perfectly, unfolding like a movie soundtrack.

The second half of the album is as strong as the first. The dark edges of Submission drag Delphic back to late 80s Depeche Mode - very much a good thing, keeping well in control of a stadium-anthem chorus and glorious rock guitar solo into the last minute and fractured ending. This leads into another highlight: Counterpoint, the most complete song on Acolyte driven forward by a synth tour-de-force that fills the senses. Most bands would fade this after three minutes but we get an encore, quiet at first then throwing in more ideas. This is like the electronic Coldplay, for every moment of genius there are three of baffling mediocrity. But more Okereke vocals and a frantic outro rescue the proceedings from all things Chris Martin.

Even in the album’s weaker parts, Acolyte belies the youthfulness of a band still trying to make it. The musical vortex of Red Lights is most definitely style over substance but compelling nonetheless, if a little long. Halcyon is a stuttering collection of drums within a power-pop ballad to which the Pet Shop Boys still aspire. Remain starts well and then falls a bit flat, retreating into safety. More great vocals bring back memories of I Was A Cub Scout. Yet, closer Alterstate is a space-age trip back through what has come before which is the album’s only disappointment.

Hype comes with a price. You have to live up to it. And these days the last thing new bands want is the pressure of media and an increasingly eager and accessible fan base. With Acolyte, Delphic not only live up to the hype, they rise above it. Live shows are sure to be a sweaty nerdy dance-fest filled with disillusioned Hot Chip fans and a plethora of hit singles will maintain interest through the summer. It’s only two weeks old but we may have set a high benchmark for the year. Delphic has our attention. Now they need to do something with it.

-- CS

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