[7 October 2008]
Every year there is one album that comes out of nowhere, kicks you in the ass, and demands your attention. It finds itself on your iPod, inside your CD player, and blaring out of your headphones or speakers. Then, you commit to spreading the word about the album to anyone and everyone. Because, just like how misery loves company, so does a music lover who has just discovered a fantastic new album. For me, and others I am sure, Delta Spirit’s Ode to Sunshine is just that album. These five guys from San Diego blend soul, folk, blues, and Americana across their debut for 11 of this year’s most intriguing and enjoyable songs. If comparisons are your type of things, think Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff’s emotional delivery mixed with some surfer-folk-blues guitar riffs and spiritual lyrical undertones. And it all comes together to make tracks that range from devastating to fun-loving to gorgeous.
Delta Spirit began gaining exposure after releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2006 while on tour. They were praised for their energetic live shows and, obviously, excellent music. Then, they began crafting Ode to Sunshine, which was re-released late last August with new cover art. And even though it technically came out during the summer, it’s the epitome of an autumn album. Singer Matthew Vasquez’s strained, gripping vocals are chilling when matched with the cool breeze coming off his bandmates’ instruments.
That feeling hits you immediately when “Tomorrow Goes Away”, Ode to Sunshine’s opener, begins. Besides setting the tone for the rest of the album, the track also provides an ample introduction to the band’s sound. Vasquez’s tender singing grabs your ear while the acoustic guitar behind him hypnotizes you, making for a deadly combination. And then it all changes for “Trashcan”, a rollicking fun track that oozes southern soul and folk. It’s also just a great take on the pop anthems crafted by musical giants of the past. But none of it sounds forced, familiar, or phony. And musically, “Trashcan” is just a hell of a good time. The drums, the piano, and the vocals are the standouts, but none of them are overpowering. They simply work together to make this track a strong contender on the inevitable “best of” lists we’ll see by the year’s end. It might not reach the same heights, but “People C’Mon” is another toe-tapping beauty. This time around, the piano steals the show, though the handclaps and dirty guitar riffs come close. Challenging these two tracks for the best one-two punch are “Strange Vine” and “Streetwalker”. First, you have the beautifully crafted former, which is a killer demonstration of how to write a topnotch song. It’s a folky romp through California’s cooler temperatures. And that feeling is accentuated by the vibrant guitars and crashing percussion, which paint a picture of a brisk night on the beach. And the latter, though not as strong, closely follows the path traversed by “Strange Vine”.
But, like with any talented group of musicians, the mellow points on Ode to Sunshine are just as interesting, if not even more so, than the upbeat jams. There’s the anti-war “People Turn Around”, for example, that sounds like it crept right out of the 1960s. And much of the same goes for “Children”. But they are bested by the heartfelt “Bleeding Bells”. At first, Vasquez is paired with just an acoustic guitar, a match that could have worked for the whole song. When the horns hit, however, the track becomes something bigger. They add a layer that wasn’t even needed, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t fitting. If “Bleeding Bells” sounds breathtaking, just wait until you hear “House Built for Two”, perhaps the best track on here. It’s a heart-wrenching ballad driven by a somber piano, as Vasquez bares his soul: “It’s true, I built this for you, a house fit for two, is too small for you; it’s a shame, leave you to blame, changing your name, and left him insane.” They might seem like lyrics you’ve heard before, but they’re delivered with the right type of emotion and pain to make the words that much more crushing. And the little jam at the end of the song is a nice bonus.
What Ode to Sunshine really boils down to is excellent songwriting. And it only helps that the album’s pacing is fantastic and hardly ever drags. Even though many of the tracks carry the same tone, you never think you’re listening to the same song again. You are also left feeling satisfied by the time the title-track ends the album. So what are you waiting for? Go out, maybe grab some wine, called a loved one, and give Ode to Sunshine a spin. Or listen to it alone. Either way, you are going to enjoy it.