(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Delicate Steve – This is Steve

By on Monday, 30th January 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Delicate Steve album coverNew Jersey multi-instrumentalist and composer Steve Marion uses the stage name Delicate Steve both for himself and for the band he leads. But to simplify the issue, he’s taken the production helm and played all of the instrumental parts for his new LP ‘This is Steve’. And to be clear, all of the parts are instrumental. Though Marion refers to his tracks as “songs”, they have no lyrics and are thus technically “pieces” of music. But none of the typical words for short instrumental works seems to fit Delicate Steve’s essentially lyrical, undeniably singable melodic style as precisely as the word “song”.

The tracks on ‘This is Steve’ are concise and tightly-structured, in the vein of a standard three-minute pop song, but with sharply defined guitar riffs rather than vocal melodies serving as the foundation for instrumental counterpoint and textural layering. And despite the complex interplay of rhythms and the variety of instrumental timbres, the easy flexibility of Marion’s guitar technique and the fluidity of his melodies stand out above everything, assuring that the songs (and they do ultimately feel like songs, despite the lack of singing) never feel square or contrived.

The opening tracks on the album are undeniably catchy and upbeat. ‘Animals’ leads with an engaging hook, which Marion clearly establishes before sliding into a sassy display of virtuosity. ‘Winners’ is mellow and gently rocking, but with a steady undercurrent of buoyant energy that is visually illustrated in its boardwalk themed video (just below). The adrenaline-fueled, overdriven ‘Cartoon Rock’ ( video at the bottom of the page) displays Delicate Steve’s guitar rock chops, but its gritty, dirtier sound is contrasted with a layer of synth sounds and off-kilter rhythms in the coda.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/zeZdhN16zYs[/youtube]

Around the halfway point, ‘This is Steve’ takes a moodier and definitely more introspective turn. ‘Tomorrow’ is the album’s first hint of darkness, with a suggestive piano intro and a sultry, seductive guitar riff. The darker, shadowy tone prevails through the anxious rhythm of ‘Help’, the more experimental and off-kilter ‘Swimming’, and lightly soaring piano arrangement of ‘Driving’. Following an impressive display of counterpoint in the bridge of ‘Together’, the warm gospel piano chords and a subtly sensual guitar melody in title track ‘This is Steve’ end the album on an endearingly confessional note.

With its 10 tracks clocking in at just over 28 minutes, ‘This is Steve’ doesn’t give you time to overanalyse. It moves quickly from one vignette to the next, without concern for overt connection or cohesion. Its concise, defined song structures leave plenty of room for improvisation to materialise in live performance, and though it starts in one place and ends somewhere entirely different, the flow of the songs feels entirely genuine, natural and spontaneous.

9/10

Delicate Steve’s third studio album ‘This is Steve’ is available now on Anti- Records. The album is streaming in full on Delicate Steve’s official Web site. Delicate Steve is scheduled as a showcasing artist for SXSW 2017 this March in Austin, TX. For news and updates on SXSW 2017 showcasing artists, please consult the festival’s official schedule here.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/2kZtjbWaZKk[/youtube]

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