Toronto band Deliluh pile subtlety onto restraint onto understatement to make a sprawling, excessive heap made entirely of minimalist gestures, like a huge mound of small bits of sea glass. Kyle Knapp’s clean guitar and mostly spoken vocals are the band’s sound. With both instrument and voice, he favours a very simple no frills and highly repetitive style. As a lyricist, on the other hand, he is highly complex and abstract, the songs often an avalanche of words falling too fast to catch them all and intoned with little affect to provide any further point of purchase. The sound is different but the effect is similar to Bristol’s Repo Man. Sometimes his vocals are duplicated, lots of Knapps talking to each other or repeating the same point; again, minimalism compounded until it becomes glorious excess.
Alongside Knapp’s voice and guitar, other sounds fade in and out. There’s typical rock instrumentation like drums and bass, played, like the guitar, simple, clean, and repetitive, as well as the occasional piano, broken and noisy distorted guitar, and what might be synthesizers or found sounds. The repetitive and spare guitar, bass, and drums all work well with the other more sprawling and stranger elements, in that each sets the listener’s ear up to better appreciate the other.
One of my favourite parts of the record is the track ‘Master Keys‘, when the band vamps for a long time on a simple – again, clean, spare – riff that’s mostly guitar and bass, with a bit of pretty synths. This goes on at length as recordings of conversations fade in, unintelligible but familiar – quiet hubbub like the company of strangers in a diner, hushed voices in a library, a stranger walking by talking and laughing into her phone.
It reminded me of Jawbreaker’s ‘Condition Oakland’, where a recording of Jack Kerouac’s voice and Steve Allen’s piano undulate among the band’s music. That recording, however, was one group of artists appreciating other artists, while on ‘Master Keys’ Deliluh sound to me like artists elevating ordinary life to their level, like documentary photography. Those conversational recordings alongside the music were pretty on their own and I took them as an invitation to think about how the sounds all around us can be enjoyable if we think of them that way. Art is in some respects training in aesthetic perception, and we can to some extent apply that perception to objects that are ostensibly not art.
Another standout track is ‘Falcon Scott Trail’, a moody and jittery instrumental that mixes tape manipulation with a mournful-yet-threatening saxophone that would be at home on the last Sly & the Family Drone record (Sly and Deliluh should absolutely tour together. Someone make that happen, I insist; I deserve this.) That song turns over into another instrumental, ‘Con Art Inc’, a similarly uneasy sax writhing atop undulating post-punk bass and drums, with stranger and harsher noises – scraping, reverbed feedback, what sound like animal calls – and tape manipulation.
It’s tempting to call Deliluh art rock – it’s definitely art – but there’s not a lot of rock here, nor is there much pop. There are some energetic parts and some hooks, but mostly there is a lot of repetition and atmosphere. That’s not a criticism. The music reminded me of bleak landscape photography of Midwestern winters. There’s a lot of space to stretch out and in one light all that openness and emptiness is captivating, while in another it’s oppressive.
In the sampling and tape manipulation, Deliluh reminded me a little of Burial. Though they’re playing in very different genres, both artists make sounds that are cold and distant and pair them with sounds that are warm and human. There are unsettling, uneasy parts, and there is a sense of people being together. Maybe it’s no accident that Deliluh recorded this record and an earlier release at a veteran’s hall – I believe in England they’re called working men’s clubs? – a place people go to be with other people, to shelter from literal and metaphorical cold.
In some ways Deliluh is like Leeds art punks Drahla (Add them to that tour with Sly and the Family Drone. Someone needs to get on this right now. Is someone taking notes?) Both bands make music with a strong artistic vision, but Drahla have a confrontational coldness, while Deliluh play music with the warmth of a Weakerthans or John K. Samson record, though far more arty and sonically interesting. ‘Beneath the Floors’ is a record to sit with many times, to take in and mull over. It’s very good, you should go listen to it.