Delta Spirit’s new album provides hope of coming joy

Delta Spirit's self-titled album earns four out of five stars.

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“How could one little speck / Make a difference to the rest? / Well it doesn’t, no one cared / Except me.” So goes the chorus of the first track on “Delta Spirit,”’ welcoming the listener to an album’s worth of guitar-laden existential inquiry. In a way, the band’s entire discography has been dedicated to satisfying that question with a better answer than apathy. What can we do to leave a world besotted by heartbreak and madness better than how it was when we first came on the scene? After all, this is only the first song. They may be down and out but no one’s thrown in any towels just yet.

Echoes of Christianity

Hailing from Long Beach, Delta Spirit has a sound that centers around the lyrics and snarly growl of frontman Matt Vasquez. The band’s first albums displayed his devotion to the retro rock of days gone by. “Ode to Sunshine” took its cues from early Byrds, Beatles and Stones records while “History From Below” relied more on the folksy and Dylanesque to drive its insights home.

Though they’ve made no formal proclamation of faith, there’s no doubt that they have been weaned on the spirituality of blues and gospel. On their last album, the song “Salt in the Wound” proclaimed, “Maybe God is God / Maybe the devil is me / Well, I just throw my chains on / And tell myself that I’m free.” The most systematic and stringent of theologians could hardly disagree with such a statement of sin. Delta Spirit’s new, self-titled album evolves beyond their association with rootsy rock ‘n’ roll: It declares them a band with one foot in the past and one foot planted firmly in the apocalyptic realities of postmodern living. And this time, they have synthesizers.

Different from previous work

Musically, the album is more diverse than anything they have previously attempted. The first track, “Empty House,” ushers the listener in on the coattails of the familiar. This is the same Delta we have come to know and love over the past few years. Still, there’s no doubt that the vocals are a little less angsty and the production a little more refined.

The following three numbers — “Tear It Up,” “California” and “Idaho” — assure us that we’re riding in the same car but it’s been souped up since we last took a ride. They rock hard, but whereas previous albums could almost have passed for an improvised barroom stomp, every note here is in its right place. Diversity abounds again — “Otherside” evokes the spirit of early Brit-pop outings (think Coldplay and The Verve) while “Tellin’ the Mind” intercedes for the spirit of Tom Waits to shed light unto our path.

Vasquez and his bandmates know that an ode to sunshine can only ever be sung as the light pierces a backdrop of darkness. Their forte is presiding over the marriage ceremonials of music and word. The lyrics yank and tug on humanity’s basic yearnings and the accompanying instrumentals make sure to aim for wherever the words may have missed. Love, in a fallen world, is hardly ever known till after a heartbreak or two. If you don’t think so, “California” is available any time you hit play.

The forbidden fruit got bitten into and Delta Spirit is making music that dares to challenge the status quo, post-Fall. On “Idaho,” Vasquez sings: “The suits will drop the ball again / We’ll pass the hat and make another plan.” The song is a microcosm for the album as a whole. It’s angry but hopeful, aware but understanding.

Songs portray realities of time and order

The band knows it is hard to miss how each sign of day seems to fade slowly into night. You thought the Fall was bad? Well, here comes the winter of our discontent. The corrupt rise up again and again but it’s something Delta feels comfortable treating with nonchalance. Christian or not, they’re picking up their guitars as psalmists, lamenting injustice and bygone love.

Is there not something telling in the way Genesis lays out the rhythm of the world? It was evening, then it was morning: the first day. Delta Spirit operates out of the same logic. Why busy ourselves with thinking it is the other way round? Does light fade into darkness or does darkness burst forth into light? “Everyone is blind just the same as you / But you see it when it comes around” as “Time Bomb” suggests. We’re all blind until some kind of light bursts forth. We stand in the knowledge that it did come around. There’s a springtime, an endless summer just around the corner. This album raises all the questions, goosebumps and insurgencies of joy that anyone could ask for.

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