Delta Spirit’s Ambitious Return Aims For The Back Rows 

Delta Spirit | What Is There | (New West)
3 out of 5 stars

It took six years of separation and various solo projects for the five members of Delta Spirit, who were apparently “growing apart” after 2014’s Into the Wide, to reconvene. Still, the grandiosity they gradually shifted towards after the quintet’s rootsy alt-folk 2005 debut has matured and grown. It’s in full flight on these 10 tracks.

Fronted by singer Matthew Logan Vasquez’s dynamic vocals (that occasionally take on a ghostly falsetto), Delta Spirit’s emo inflected arena rock is of a cloth with U2, Coldplay and the less experimental side of Radiohead. Opening with “The Pressure,” Spirit immediately aims for the back rows with a thumping synth bass, layered guitars and an expansive scope that nonetheless has a sing-along chorus of “Can we talk to someone? Anyone?” It’s earnest, brooding, literate and dramatic, all adjectives that describe the majority of these songs.

Some tunes like the widescreen “Lover’s Heart” swell and contract with tensile dynamics and solemn lyrics like “My spirit is broken, but I’m not dead.” Since the members are jointly credited with composing the material, it’s impossible to tell who is having romantic issues implied by the title of “Can You Forgive Me?” (with the somewhat clichéd lyrics of “Can you understand that I’m just a man who loves you?”) as the music shifts from stripped down guitar to full blown power ballad mode. Like the blurry black and white photos on the cover and the accompanying booklet, there isn’t much light or color in the overall sound, although “Better Now”’s chorus brings some Prince into the equation. A strong spirituality is infused in words like “God what is happening to me? …All of your life try to make some sense of it” heightened by dreamy, heavily reverbed guitars that hammer home the performance.

The approach on this fifth Delta Spirit serving gradually winds down for the closing songs, the last of which provides the disc with its name. Here Vasquez unplugs for a raw, softly strummed reflection on life. It ends with “What is there?,” the added question mark marking a significant revision of the titular statement.

While there are dreary aspects to much of What Is There, the general vibe, and slick, meaty production, is one of a moderately hopeful future. Perhaps the band is looking for the daylight that informed Delta Spirit’s brighter first album, appropriately titled Ode to Sunshine.        

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