'Delphi' Is Antwood's Electronic Take on Love and Technology
With Delphi, Canadian electronic artist Antwood releases an ambitious collection of brash electronic music and a whole slew of genre pastiches yet to be invented.
19 July 2019
Antwood loves playing with concepts. The Canadian electronic artist, born Tristan Douglas, released his last full-length album, Sponsored Content, in 2017, and it was a curious homage to the ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) phenomenon. His latest work, Delphi, focuses on the titular female character and the challenges she faces in modern relationships, often hampered by burdensome technology. Delphi often escapes to her namesake, the ancient Greek city she's named after her, and becomes lost in her fantasy.
If the story – conceived by Douglas and his girlfriend, Olivia Dreisinger – seems off-putting and perhaps overly rooted in fantasy, this is by no means a reason to ignore Delphi. For one thing, the narration segments are few and far between, to the point where they're practically secondary to the listening experience. Second, the music is absolutely stunning. The experimental bent of the album includes quite a comprehensive variety of musical styles. While obviously rooted in dance-oriented electronic music, there are echoes of neoclassical, ambitious pop, film scores, piano sonata form, and a whole slew of genre pastiches yet to be invented.
The character of Delphi makes her first appearance in the introductory track, "Skype Ghost", setting the scene after some brief, low-key instrumental fanfare: "It's kind of confusing when you wanna Skype and say all these intense things," she announces, "and then ghost me." Delphi makes her next appearance on the fifth track, "A Hostile Message", where she runs down a litany of technologically based situations that make relationships a challenge (under the same musical motifs as "Skype Ghost"). But while the concept creates something of a spine for the album, Douglas is content to let the music do most of the talking.
Among those musical highlights is the title track, a furious beast of breakneck tempo and stuttering synth arpeggios. The song is full of brash beats, keyboard assaults and pummeling electronic percussion. The following track, "Queasy", is the polar opposite in terms of tempo and energy, but the sluggish nature of the song, not to mention its mysterious and idiosyncratic effects (disembodied vocal samples, random finger snaps, running water) give the track an unsettling feel.
Elsewhere, "First Delphic Hymn (To Apollo)" uses Eastern musical cues to further the exotic flair of the album. "Cave Moth" is a fusillade of blips, belches, and futuristic beats that start and stop at an almost maddening rate. "Ecstatic Dance" is almost cinematic in the way the different sections are broken down. Fast, choppy sections are full of melodic bliss while the slower, more ponderous sections evoke the most breathtaking of film scores.
Possibly the most eclectic and inspiring song on Delphi is "Castalian Fountain", which contains nearly all the different aspects of the album distilled into five and a half minutes. Pastoral flutes and harp-like synths descend into dark, booming chaos, veering off into ethereal vocalizing and experimental trance beats. The song seems almost self-consciously all over the map, but to hear an artist like Douglas interpret his vision in such a deft, dazzling manner is quite a thing to experience. When the following song, "Delphi's Song", follows, the gentle solo piano acts as a welcome breather after so much tension.
The Delphi character makes her final appearance on "Some Dust". Her farewell monologue expresses confusion as to the events that preceded it. "I shut my eyes and think, 'what just happened? What's happening to me?'" After Delphi bows out, Douglas carries her off in a storm cloud of synthesized orchestrations. Curtain.
Delphi is a fascinating example of what an experimental artist of Douglas' caliber can do with arrangements, concepts, and a seemingly boundless arsenal of musical ideas. Delphi is one of those albums where the listener finds something new every time. The album's title character may distrust or dislike technology, but it provides a sumptuous experience for the rest of us.