PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom: The Days of Mars

Josh Berquist

Strip away all the fun from LCD Soundsytem, extricate the funk from The Juan Maclean, put Black Dice on downers, and what's left? DFA's most leftfield manifestation yet.

Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom

The Days of Mars

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
Amazon affiliate

The rise of DFA Records has been an inspiringly unlikely success. While their cultivation of transcendent hipster status earned them advantageous affiliations with Astralwerks and EMI, the label remains defiantly incongruous. Even as they carry on the tradition of accessibly dance floor friendly singles that established them, they continue to invest in unusual artists who might otherwise go unnoticed. LCD Soundsystem's liberal appropriations of rock and dance are affable enough, but The Juan Maclean's frigid robot funk is considerably less congenial. The giddy jittering and scattershot throb of Black Dice is even more imposing although they compensate for an apparent lack of structure with infectious energy. Rejecting their respective labelmates' liveliness, momentum, or avidity, Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom stand as the most leftfield manifestation of the DFA Records aesthetic. Weighing in at four songs over 50 minutes without a single snare or kick drum, their debut The Days of Mars is a formidable slab of subtly shifting tones and textures.

Other DFA artists may aim right at your ass, but Gonzalez and Russom do something much more audaciously cerebral. Outwardly obtuse, their songs all plod along to repetitious pulsations of alternately swirling and stabbing synths. Underneath that sonic onslaught is a surprising degree of intricate interaction. The years of artistic collaboration between both members are audible as they intuitively snake and slide around one another through every movement.

All captured live to tape with no subsequent overdubbing, this dynamic interplay is engrossing enough to merit interest over every expansive track. Drifting in on a vaporous haze of ambient drones, "13 Moons" simmers into a simple melody before ushering in waves of electronic flourish. Driving on into increasing density, this swarm of sweeping sound dissipates back into a melodic theme and then fades away. Alternately "Revelee" is relentless throughout its duration. Still far from overt, the track suggests a bracing intensity with its insistent propulsion. Twisting and turning its melody into various inversions, "Black Spring" is just as contemplative and as it is compelling. "Rise" spends three minutes indulging in its namesake before building up to a steady stride. Once established, that readily discernable pulse pushes onward as Gonzalez and Russom feed off and into one another filtering their way into expanding sonic palettes. Spectral and cinematic, these songs simultaneously induce introspection and imagination.

That characteristic betrays both strength and shortcoming. That The Days of Mars can get a person so caught up in their own head or have them inserting themselves into some sort of sci-fi fantasy film is impressive but the album is just as easily forgotten about and ignored. There may be a lot going on in these songs well worth paying attention to but they really require a dedicated level of focus. Left unattended, these ruminative works quickly retreat inobtrusively into the background.

Such a meditative effort may surprise DFA fans already familiar with the duo from their initial 12" and subsequent compilation appearances. Appearing as a b-side to the "El Monte" single, the DFA remix of "Rise" suggested something more infectiously funky than their monolithic debut. Looking at the label holistically makes some sense out of this discrepancy. The baffling success of DFA Records is a series of aggressively ingratiating singles followed up by edgier LPs that allow their artists to experiment and explore. The Rapture never came close to approaching the impossibly perfect "House of Jealous Lovers" anywhere on else on Echoes. LCD Soundsystem's debut is an impressively informed and intelligent record but still can't touch the strident brilliance of "Losing My Edge" or "Beat Connection". The "Cone Toaster" 12" is as accessible as Black Dice is ever going to get and The Juan Maclean proves most potent in condensed doses. That Gonzalez and Russom don't deliver anything at all like that first beat-driven b-side then becomes that much less confounding.

As mundane as DFA's single-driven success may seem, what's so stunning is that they've parlayed their gains into risks on increasingly adventurous artists like Gonzalez and Russom. Investing in something that sounds like an amped-up version of Tangerine Dream is a bold move on the part of any label and that The Days of Mars has an EMI logo on its spine is a testament to the uncanny achievement of DFA Records.

Commendable as this commitment to artistry may be, Gonzalez and Russom will surely be received by a very limited audience. The Days of Mars is an incredibly unconventional record and even as good as it is, I can't quite recommend it to anyone who isn't already predisposed to an affinity for avant-garde electronic music. Those who are already there though will surely find a lot to enjoy over the duration of this impressively intricate and idiosyncratic debut.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.