[8 January 2014]
For being but five songs, there is a multitude of worlds Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas conjure on Demons, from demented carnival to seedy urban underbelly to a smoke-filled burlesque show. More often than not, these realms bleed into each other rather than being segregated, crafting nebulous and captivating atmospheres. Take the Conway Twitty cover “Big Town”, which could be at home in a ‘40s film noir soundtrack or as accompaniment to a drunken waltz through New Orleans in the middle of the night. The title track in particular starts with a slinky, understated lurch built around a boozy bass-trombone combo before pulling the rug out from under you with an anthemic crescendo in the refrain. Then, for a healthy heaping of some straight up Detroit rock with soul flourishes, there is the sassy aggression of “Caught Up”. Most memorable, though, is the salacious “Picture Me With You (Carnie Threesome)”, which opens with the declaration of sexual confidence of “I’ve been sleeping with your girlfriend / I’ve been sleeping in her bed” that could alternately be emasculating or enthralling if you were on the receiving end. The vibe here is again protean, with keys evoking both ‘60s garage rock and creepy funhouses, the trombone — the sextet’s strongest element after Hernandez’s voice — reminiscent of classic jazz.
Speaking of Hernandez’s voice, it is the unsurprising centerpiece of the band’s sound. Character-rich, it borders on a contralto range, nuanced and running from quiet sultriness to blistering power. Steeped in soul and R&B, her vocal skills rank among the best of those genres, receiving their best showcase on the simmering “Shadow Boy”. Simply put, the deftness with which she controls her voice and slithers it through different means of projection is astounding. Throughout it all, Demons is equal parts sexy and campy, baroque and vaudevillian, grimy and nasty, theatrical and intimate, all the things you’d expect from a band whose Facebook page lists Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello as their influences. The record is an accomplished document that proves the band deserves all the hype they’ve been garnering.