Delta Sleep – ‘Ghost City’

By Gareth O'Malley

The perception that math-rock favours style over substance still lingers even as the genre has continued to carve out its niche on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere. It’s expanded into the revitalised American indie scene, and most every influential emo-adjacent label has a band on its roster that skews toward the kinetic rhythms, intricate melodies and time signature alchemy that the genre is known for. Emotional vulnerability and musical dexterity go together better than many other things; hence, the math-rock scene’s response to the upbeat music/despairing lyrics so beloved by indie rock torchbearers in recent years.

Delta Sleep provided a fine example of this on their 2015 debut album Twin Galaxies, which itself built on the foundations laid by 2013’s Management EP, its wide-ranging sonics sticking in the mind as much as its nautical metaphors and cleverly-crafted breakup songs, albeit ones that never got lost within the throes of their own complexity. There was an element of accessibility to those 10 songs that clearly resonated with a wide audience, as the band played shows as far afield as Mexico and Japan off the back of the record. They’re every bit as tight live as you’d expect, and second LP ‘Ghost City’ benefits greatly from the band road-testing their new songs before hitting the studio.

It shows a different side to the band; more structurally and conceptually ambitious than previous offerings. Set in a world where ‘organic nature and wildlife are a thing of the past – a myth,’ the record explores a dystopian near-future world and the mind of the protagonist looking to escape it. “There must be more to life than concrete walls,” frontman Devin Yuceil exclaims midway through the album on ‘Dotwork’, the near-six-minute centrepiece around which the five tracks either side of it are anchored, and that sense of longing runs throughout all these songs. Style over substance isn’t something Yuceil and his cohorts are interested in, instead choosing to craft richly textured songs that sometimes border on emotionally raw.

Even when things get heavy lyrically, the musical landscape is never less than dazzling, with the beauty of the natural world extolled on ‘El Pastor’ providing the catharsis the protagonist—perhaps even Yuceil himself—has been looking for, led by a virtuoso performance from drummer Blake Mostyn, whom has shone on record before but never quite like this. That track pairs nicely with the atmospheric instrumental ‘Glass’ to offer the listener a chance to come down from the euphoric feelings that the higher-energy cuts on ‘Ghost City’ induce.

Imbued with feelings of hard-won positivity, even at its most introspective there is plenty of light shining through. Sombre opener ‘Sultans of Ping’ won’t exactly have you dancing at the disco, bumper-to-bumper, its slowly-unfolding soundscapes and stately tempo inviting you into the ‘tech-noir’ world the album inhabits; but the eruption around three minutes in is quite the payoff. It’s a reliable indicator of where the band’s evolved sound is headed; as over the following 40 or so minutes, the listener is treated to Delta Sleep at their most confident, streamlined, and—yes—emotionally resonant. Pushing themselves to create a self-contained piece of work, the record’s flow is assisted by field recordings and almost imperceptible segues, even looping back around on itself with closing track ‘Afterimage’. On ‘Ghost City’, Delta Sleep present us with an unsettling vision of the future but make sure to remind us, through their music and vivid lyrics, that there’s still hope, and they do so with the kind of self-belief most bands would kill for.

GARETH O’MALLEY

Three more album reviews for you

We Were Promised Jetpacks - 'The More I Sleep The Less I Dream'

Emma Ruth Rundle - 'On Dark Horses'

LIVE: Twenty One Pilots @ Brixton Academy, London