As the founders of Chemikal Underground, one of the most relevant and successful independent record labels in the UK, the Delgados place in indie rock history might have already been assured. Such is the reward for guiding the careers of acts like Bis, Mogwai, and Arab Strap. Of course, the fact that they’re also an enduringly inventive and loved band has to factor in as well. Fittingly then, could there be a better way to celebrate the inauguration of their thriving label stateside than with the re-release of their debut album, Domestiques?
For some, especially fans of their later material, this might be territory you won’t want to tread again, but if that’s true it’s a shame, as the dual vocals of Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward have rarely sounded as lively and significant as on this. Stripped free of much of the experimentation that would come with time, the songs on Domestiques breathe a freshness, both lyrically and musically, that sometimes escapes their later work. So, you can do a lot worse than owning this re-release.
Of course if there is something to complain about, it’s its length. At 19 songs (four of which are bonus US tracks) and much of those of similar style, the overall effect can be tiring, especially as a comparable sound runs through much of the album—one mostly attributable to rather dated guitar style. “Strathcona Slung”, “Tempered: Not Tamed”, “Big Business in Europe”, and “Sucrose” especially scream a sort of ‘90s-ness. Because of this sound, and despite the energetic burst throughout the album, it’s incredible to hear how much the Delgados’ debut sounded like other bands in this case the best aspects of bands like Sonic Youth, the Wedding Present, and Pavement, (all acts the Delgados toured with during that time period). At any rate, it feels irrelevant to bitch about this considering Domestiques’ many highlights.
Opener “Under the Canvas Under Wraps” explodes with the aforementioned enthusiasm, with Woodward’s vocals muzzled in a fuzzy feedback and complimenting Pollock’s alluring vocal turn with force (while also predating the fuzz box vocals of people like Jules Casablancas).
“Falling and Landing” also shines, its showcase a moody verse, ringing guitars, and a harmony filled chorus. “Akumulator”, is another great rocker, and one that despite a rousing chorus still hints at the more ambient work the group would touch upon later in its career.
“Leaning on a Cane” is another noteworthy track, as in its mellow beauty, unfolding calmly and starkly, and with the help no less of a violin, the duo’s vocal work blends beautifully to create one of its most solemn, if not ultimately sweetest songs.
“Smaller Mammals” and the minute long “One More Question,” also fit within this realm, as on the latter song Woodward’s softly spoken vocals are accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a glockenspiel, and the subtle sampling of a seascape.
Of the four bonus tracks, none beside “Primary Alternative” truly excite or offer anything really different, though having said that they aren’t necessarily bad either. “Bearclub”, for example, is another fine, softer offering of Woodward’s, and one that in its build-up and atmospherics might make a case for being a better album closer than the original “D’estus Morte”.
In the end, this is a fine album from one of the more important indie acts kicking around today. Depending on your opinion of the early- and mid-90’s musical landscape, though, it can be seen as a welcome re-visit, or an unnecessary dose of nostalgic posturing. Either way it’s a fine document of the earliest work of the still relevant band. Of course, for those hooked on the Delgados’ later output, you might be happier staying away and giving The Great Eastern another listen.