When it comes to making music, we all strive to embody our idols. Whether we’re emulating Bob Dylan’s vocal prose or Clapton’s string prowess, there is always a glance to the past before looking towards the future. Cover bands will always hold a certain demographic (see Led Zepagain/Mandonna), but being relevant while staying original is what makes an album worthwhile. The hybrid of old meets new is where Delta Spirit makes its bread and butter, stoking the blogosphere while intriguing the Baby Boomers.
History from Below takes the foolproof formula and gives us more than we could ask for. Delta Spirit’s sophomore release is still jangly and distinctively homegrown, but the difference lies in the obvious flexibility the band held while producing the album. Now an established force, lead singer Matt Vasquez utilized his newfound malleability with complex instrumentation and genre-defying experimentation. Now this might sound like a band trying all too hard, but the final product is anything but the sort. The message is simple – experiences shape a lifetime, and optimism is the only way to keep up through the good and bad.
The album follows a path equivalent to a post-college existential road trip, one of those “trying to find meaning in a material world” sort of journeys. When History from Below begins, there is little buildup or preface. The spontaneity is key to the journey, embarking with the jumpy head-bobber “911”, with piano repetition reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks”. The energy stays high throughout the top, just like the start to an adventure should, with eighth note riffs pounding throughout “Bushwick Blues”.
If you’ve ever gotten up and left everything behind, you can attest to the fact that once the excitement and freedom wears away, disillusionment tends to sets in. The mood in History from Below turns from joyous to introspective after the initial rush of sound. Acoustic guitars create a mutiny and vocals morph into hollow silhouettes during “Ransom Man” and a large portion of the mid-section. The mellow drama is an extremely gratifying touch, as Delta Spirit entices us with a distinct smell to achieve greater appreciation of the main course.
As the trip comes to a somber close, Delta Spirit articulates introspection. It’s fascinating how a band can start so whimsically and end with such purpose while connecting the two. “Vivian” layers vocals for one last hurrah, while “Ballad of Vitality” ends with ambient noise intended to drag out the listening experience. And despite the somewhat drastic shift in theme, it is all so damn seamless.
The San Diego-based group has created a record worthwhile of a start-to-finish listen. Not only avoiding the sophomore slump, Delta Spirit embodies the dedication to musicality sought after by every entertainer. This is an obvious step forward and an obvious attempt at perfection.