Delta Sleep – Ghost City (album review)

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After a three year wait Brighton’s Delta Sleep are back with their hugely anticipated second release, Ghost City.

The album opens with ‘Sultans of Ping’, which starts with tranquil guitars, builds to encapsulate delicate vocals and eventually crashes into the most delightful crescendo backed with gang vocals. As the song reaches an end there is a crashing math-rock section; reminding listeners Delta Sleep are far more than great indie pop songwriters. It is this level of interest that takes them both outside of the math-rock scene and makes them far too immersive for indie rock.

After just one track any questions regarding whether or not the band could top their debut record, Twin Galaxies, are almost instantly answered, and replaced instead by a fascination and a hunger to hear more.

The progression through the album takes opportunities to showcase varied elements, with most songs containing more noticeable elements than most entire albums. From a vocal that gently transitions between sweet melancholy and post-punk, to spoken-word and the occasional guttural shouts, to the introduction of floating synth lines, this is a release that pushes boundaries without ever losing accessibility. There are flawless transitions between songs too, whether faded in/out/both or the continuation of a musical theme; this is an LP full of purpose. At times Ghost City plays like a journey; combining with lyrics that take on the beauty of nature creating moments of fear and serenity.

The musicianship is frankly stunning and certainly shows a band at the top of their abilities (until further development) both as musicians and songwriters. The hidden elements that slowly present themselves on every listen adds so much longevity to the album. The gang whispers on ‘Single File’, for example, are a thing of spine-tingling beauty. Yet within the same song there are perfect extra notes/beats that create tiny pauses, with the vocal switching between the gentle and aggressive.

The tight snare of ‘Dotwork’ is miles away from the often abrasive drum sound of pop-punk, instead this is an almost soothing backing to one of the many standout tracks on the album. As the tempo increases, the rhythmic vocal, sharp bass-line and angular guitars amalgamate into an off-kilter toe tapper. The infectious hooks within Ghost City are a welcome surprise and maybe push the release into the realms of genre defining (if only there was a single genre this band could be defined as).

As the album approaches the end the nods to other musical influences really start to add up. ‘Dream Thang’ takes a Midwest-emo vocal, a Brit-rock guitar intro, and driven post-hardcore drums and adds an expansive, almost shoegaze chorus (including some of the warmest guitar feedback) to create a three minute pop song. ‘Sans Soleil’ has an absolutely delightful intro, almost cinematic in its build-up – it’s a delicate piece of emotive rock, again ending with delightful gang-vocals. Then there’s ‘El Pastor’ – the rolling guitar and bass-lines shimmer ahead of both vocals and harmonies giving this album a math-rock single to please the purists.

It is in these musical intricacies that this release becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. These delicate, and at times, cinematic moments add suspense and thinking time. The intro to ‘Glass’ offers the perfect moment to reflect on the eight previous tracks before gently regaining your concentration with another delightful musical combination; the bass-line takes on an almost cello like quality before fading into synths that even today sound futuristic. With the penultimate track ‘Floater’ (complete with a Fleet Foxes style intro) it builds into crushing and complex riffs before once more falling in and out of placid emotion. The effortlessness of these transitions is sublime.

It feels like the entire album builds towards ‘Afterimage’ which is probably the most outstanding moment of natural beauty on an album that draws so strongly on nature. The acoustic guitar is gentle enough to hear string squeaks as chords change, with each verse there is a small increase in guitar intensity to allow for another delicate part to be added. The synths and glockenspiel add an almost tear inducing quality which is cemented by the sudden emotive ending.

Delta Sleep have delivered one of those immersive records which so firmly bounds your attention. And while it has been said of a lot of records this year, Ghost City is without doubt one of the best releases of 2018 so far.

Ghost City is out now via Big Scary Monsters.