Delphic’s name refers to the oracle of the Greek god Apollo at Delphi. And you would have thought they were descended from such a god based on the stellar reviews their debut album Acolyte received. It was as though they were writing the reviews themselves, they were so unanimously positive. I wasn’t writing reviews myself at the time, but if I was I’m sure I would have called it brilliant if not groundbreaking. It was without a doubt a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the critics have not had such kind words to say about their new album Collections. In fact, the album has been almost universally hated. I believe the word that critics have used most often is “disappointing.” To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed the first time I listened to it. And the second. But I suspected there was something there, something that would be revealed with repeat listenings. Sure enough, I found it growing on me a little bit more with each spin. Now that I’ve lived with it for over a month, I have to say it’s quite good. Perhaps not as remarkable as their debut, but it’s certainly no sophomore slump either.
Produced by Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club, Animal Collective) and Tim Goldsworthy (Massive Attack, LCD Soundsystem), Collections features a rich array of sounds, culling from virtually every genre of electronica and infusing it with elements of hip-hop, trip-hop and modern rock.
The propulsive opening track, “Of The Young,” is like trip-hop on speed. The rapid-fire beats would seem to be a combination of live drums and programmed thuds. It’s a jittery song and it’s likely to make you feel uncomfortable the first time you listen to it. It had that effect on me. Over time, I came to appreciate its anxiety. It overflows with energy and it’s infectious once you grasp it.
“All hell is breaking loose,” sings James Cook over wild beats and symphonic strings during the chorus of “Baiya.” As the background vocals proclaim “tenderness is the only weapon left, I comfort you,” there’s a sense of grave urgency. It’s not as uneasy as “Of The Young,” but it’s unsettling nevertheless, making it the perfect second track here.
The album’s most haunting song is “Tears Before Bedtime,” where answering machine messages are played behind an eerie piano line. “Should I be insulted?” begs the woman who leaves all of the messages. “I think I know that you’re nervous,” she says during another. The messages are very brief, often incomplete thoughts, as if real voicemail messages have been chopped up and assembled in the manner that a serial killer assembles death threats from letters cut out of newspapers and magazines. Eventually Cook sings in the background in a most ghostly manner. “And you will fall in line,” he insists repeatedly.
Collections isn’t all gloom and doom though. “The Sun Also Rises” is upbeat and downright sunshiny with a blend of dazzling synth and thick, punchy beats that call to mind Massive Attack’s blissful “Teardrops.” “Endless, endless, endless,” begins the joyous chorus. “Come alive, come alive, come alive,” the chorus ends. “The sun also rises.” It’s celebratory and euphoric.
“Don’t Let The Dreamers Take You Away” is also optimistic, though the title lyric is ironic considering that the song is actually quite dream-like and hypnotic with a mix of sometimes jagged drum ‘n’ bass style beats and Craig Armstrong-ish orchestration. At times it feels as though it’s trying to coax you to sleep, at others it strives to startle you awake.
The album’s least enthralling track is “Changes,” which mixes glimmering synth with thick beats that fall somewhere between trip-hop and hip-hop. You get the feeling that it could have worked, but Cook sings it like he’s auditioning for Coldplay. To that end, it almost sounds like an out-take from the latest Coldplay album. But here, the vocals feel displaced over the beats, as if they’ve been pasted on them from another song entirely.
Ultimately, Collections is a lush album with layers and layers of sound you’re only inclined to appreciate if you spend time with it. It would be easy to dismiss it upon first listening to it, but it’s rewarding if you don’t. The devil is in the details, as they say, but you’ll only notice them here if you’re patient and pay close attention.