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Album Review: Delta Sleep - 'Ghost City'

9 August 2018 | 11:50 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

A brilliant math-rock dystopia!

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Delta Sleep’s debut record, 2015's 'Twin Galaxies', was the start of something special. However, the sheer step up in vision and musicality from the U.K. band’s first album to now is staggering. As their second LP, ‘Ghost City’, is on a whole other level! Written over the course of two years, ‘Ghost City’ is constructed with real care. Intelligent songwriting sees math-rock drum grooves and tonally crisp guitars sway along with excellent melodies, thought-provoking lyrics, palpable vocals and emotional story-telling.

Delta Sleep takes the emotive math-rock of TTNG and Tangled Hair, bundle it with the post-hardcore of Meet Me In St. Louis, and carry it with that twinkling emo heart that acts like label mates Tiny Moving Parts or your American Football's feature. (Sans the trumpets of the latter, though). The drumming is busy and calm right when it needs to be. The bass playing swirls and glides like the best of cool summer winds. The vocals yell, scream, swoon and flow in perfect harmony with the rest of the arrangements. And over-drive and delay pedals get stomped hard at just the right times to create the biggest tonal shifts and elicit the best reactions. The end result for the 11 lavish, dynamic compositions of 'Ghost City' is a glorious journey that's both tear-jerking and life-affirming.

[caption id="attachment_1103764" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Delta Sleep, 2018. [/caption]

'Ghost City' is, in essence, a tech-noir art-piece. In this record's thematic case, the whole world operates as one giant city; a collective consciousness under the rule of vast tech firms. It’s a corporate dystopia to rival 1984. (“Please tell me that these buildings don’t go on forever” - ‘Dotwork’). Expect whereas George Orwell had rank-and-file protagonist Winston Smith rebel against Big Brother and The Party until his doom within the hellish Oceania, Delta Sleep keeps things less surreal and intensive. They centre this album's lower-key and less-violent narrative around a woman who's but a cog in a much larger, societal machine. Just striving to find any slither of meaning in her boring day-to-day life. Despite the somewhat bleak subject matter, ‘Ghost City’ isn't aiming to depress you into the void, as that’s only half of the conceptual and sonic story being told.

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See, Delta Sleep cleverly use this dystopian background to set-dress uplifting, hopeful and nurturing mathy, indie-rock songs. Songs that are full of bright arpeggios, cascading instrumentals, soulful crescendos, passionate vocals, and well-made harmonies. Pushed up against this grand score, the four-piece explore topics of existentialism, mass-surveillance, oppression, crushing daily grinds, lack of personal meaning, living life through tiny screens, and the negative effects of technology. ("All we ever wanted was to find a place where we could sit and watch the sunrise in real time/instead of through the automated screens that feed on our dreams" - 'Floater').

Whereas dystopian works often turn out horribly or ominously so for their protagonists (see: Brave New World1984, etc.), there's hope and silver lining amongst Delta Sleep's poignancy here. It’s less dramatic but no less emotional framing of a life within such snuffing, inhuman settings. As it's not the city that casts a shadow over the individual on this record's front cover. Rather, our lone heroine herself casts their own mortal figure over this fictional soulless metropolis. It's a power-play tale of one standing-off against the many; a  "me vs. all" scenario. While still being grounded in our own real world. Which is why 'Ghost City' musically becomes so empowering in delivery; so rich in tone; and why it strikes such a fine balance between the bleakness of an omnipresent city and the optimism of personal freedoms. It feels real; it is real. This really is one of those great, affecting records that makes you feel like you can take on the whole goddamned world. It's a message to fight for and appreciate the smaller, simpler things in life - no matter the cost.

Sultans Of Ping’ (perhaps a reference to Irish band, The Sultans Of Ping FC?) is a delicate, snow-balling opener. It layers on guitar effects and melodies, pounding kick hits and crashing cymbals, and rising gang vocals over one another with subtle tempo changes after every eight measures. And just when you think that it can’t get any fuckin' bigger, it breaks right through the ceiling and into the open stratosphere. After some math-rock instrumental breaks of quick drum fills and delayed guitars, this massive opening piece breathes and follows smoothly into the chilling voicings and tonally contrastive ‘After Dark’. This second song is like walking through regimented, empty city streets long after the curfew has since passed with your headphones on up-loud. It's emotional and philosophical struggle bottled into four-and-a-half minutes. Yet amongst the restrained darkness of it all flickers instrumental and vocal melodic light; like longing distant views found miles away from this oppressive, debilitating environment.

The rhythmically jagged and melodically serene ‘Single File’ hits upon the mundanity of over-dramatised work cycles; of searching for something better. Something, anything! Anything than having your brain rotted away by numbers on computer screens, and not being able to dream while you're constantly watched and under someone else's thumb. ‘Single File’, among many tracks here like ‘Dotwork’, tap right into what I really do adore about this collection of songs. Other than them reaching some really solid explosive peaks, it's how the album’s fulfilling narrative nails the loneliness felt by our protagonist; like she's the only one that realizes how insane all of this shit is; that no one else would understand her plight or deepest thoughts on such matters. Even less so in the prevalent corporate hellscape world this record effortlessly portrays with determined yet defeated lyrics that read as her desires. ("So hard to focus when the city watches everything you do/stops you from dreaming, I'm leaving soon" - 'Single File').

Beautiful lead single ‘El Pastor’, like it's peers, talks heavily of escapism from slaving away for faceless leaders and finding solace in the beauty of the natural world. Without the context of the record, it might sound like a hippie love affair with tall trees, open fields, and fresh mountain hair. But in context, it’s effect goes from a light-hearted jam to a more serious, impactful piece on getting away from it all. The song sounds as lush and as detailed as the countryside that it lyrically yearns to embrace with open arms. ("Tall grass is everywhere/this could end the suffering"). With smooth, humming backing vocals, busied 4/4 drumming, gorgeous guitar playing, a resonating and charming delivery from frontman Devin Yuceil, and some well-placed snare rimshots and cowbell, this track puts a big ass smile on my face every time. Endearing, killer and memorable doesn't even begin to cover it!

Sans Soleil’, perhaps named after Chris Marker’s 1983 French documentary on the dangerously fragile nature of human memory, is a true standout. If there was one song here that summed up ‘Ghost City’ as a whole, then this would be it, folks. It reaches every aspect of what makes Delta Sleep such a stellar act musically, how they build a song and execute it. The climax of this up till then 5/4 gem hits like a euphoric slap to the face. Akin to a sudden plummet off the edge and realizing that you're being caught “between routine and heartache" but understanding that it's just "not a life to live”.

Closer ‘Afterimage’ is actually a shorter, eerier acoustic reprisal of ‘Sultans Of Ping’. It strips away the layers and larger scale of Delta Sleep's sound but still pulls you into the vivid world the four-piece have created here. You know that old saying that a song is truly great when it still works within the acoustic realm? Well, that's proved with the ying-yang of 'Afterimage' and 'Sultans Of Ping'. It also just hits harder the theme of 'Ghost City' once more; like 'Sultans Of Ping' was just the start of a long work day and 'Afterimage' is later that evening when you're back home, trying to get some sleep despite all the noise in the back of your head. This song - hell, this entire record - is meant for any and all soul-searchers out there.

The only thing I have against this still magnificent record is its two instrumental interludes. The slow and tempered third song ‘Ghost’ tries to creep under your skin with these ethereal loops and licks, with some keys or glockenspiel underneath. Whereas the cavernous eighth song ‘Glass’, and it's detuned, tape-slowing intro begets darkened modulated guitar chords as delay and reverb ripple as pinging drums spread outwards. They're both nifty little pieces but they do fall by the wayside on repeat listens and just don't offer the huge gratification that the other, "fuller" songs here instill so deeply within me. Especially when there are songs either before and after both tracks that float through very similar moods. ‘Ghost’ and ‘Glass’ honestly just feel like filler. Still, that's a small price to pay for what is nonetheless a brilliant album!

Math-rock, indie, emo, and alternative collide in beautiful fashion on Delta Sleep's wonderful second record. 'Ghost City' is an emotive and explosive dystopian work that exceeds at both it's conceptual foundation as well as it's musical execution too. There's a whole world out there beyond your window and those towering buildings, so go out and explore it with this record on repeat in the background.

Sultans Of Ping

After Dark


Single File


Dream Thang

Sans Soleil

El Pastor




'Ghost City' is out Friday, August 10th!