CHRISTOPHER T. SHARPE
Something has happened to Delorean. When last we left them they were busy conjuring all kinds of giddiness with their brand of Basque bangers, epitomised by the blissed out ‘Deli’ from 2009’s Aryton Senna EP, and the euphoric and enormous ‘Stay Close’ from Subiza. With their latest album Apar though, they’ve turned to – if not an overtly melancholy approach – certainly a more restrained one.
In many ways it fits. Recorded amidst a tide of tumult in their native Spain (where youth unemployment has hit an appalling 56.1%), the summer nights presumably don’t feel so joyous and long. They’ve spoken of “leaving behind the ornate and layered” aspects of their previous work and focusing on “big-production”, and their press releases and album artwork emphasise a sense of unity through adversity – whether emotionally or economically – which informs the album throughout.
‘Destitute Time’ for instance, fuses lyrics about “losing ground”, the realisation of “now when it’s all gone”, and yet is framed within the bounds of a lush, well-hewn modern pop song. ‘Dominion’ similarly provides some sense of a romantic future against an impending and harsh reality by appropriating Dylan Thomas: “I couldn’t be more sure of what I’m waiting for / For your eyes prove / that death shall have no dominion”.
The main issue with Apar though, and a particular disappointment when this context has been so emphasised, is that the area where it’s most registered is in the relative impoverishment of identity and diversity in the music.
The strangely oxymoronic set of ambitions mentioned earlier, of removing the ornate in place of the maximalist, has created a hollow that now lies at the heart of many of their songs. There’s a lack of depth and ambition here despite the constant sense of grandiose atmosphere and occasion that heralds each song. Song-lengths are notably shorter than previously, yet this concise approach has not focused the song-writing accordingly, and the consequence is that the expansive outcrops of glorious effervescence that elevated Subiza are cut down, forced into tighter boxes. ‘Keep Up’ for instance sounds enormous, and will no doubt translate particularly well live, but it never really leads anywhere after 3-and-a-half-minutes, and so instead crashes out into the 80s infused snyth-pop balladry of ‘Walk High’, which like its predecessor spreads out but never really develops.
Similarly, tracks have a tendency to blur together, as even when they promise something distinctive – the saxophone on ‘You Know It’s Right’, the throb and tribal drums that open ‘Your Face’, or the synthesized harps of ‘Inspire’ – the novelty peters out without real development, and falls back into the same limited vocal melodies, and almost stock patterns of keys and drum machines.
The sense of containment especially impedes on a more experimental piece like ‘Unkind’. Led entirely by Carolina Polachek of the supremely underrated Chairlift, many aspects of the track, from the effects-laden and somewhat awkward vocals which feel somehow syntactically at odds with the words in her mouth, to the mixing of the rhythm-section, seem misshapen… clunky even.
Beyond the knowledge that Delorean’s prior work promises their ability to achieve so much more, this frustration at the seemingly self-imposed limitations on Apar is further heightened by the number of moments that captivate. The aforementioned ‘Destitute Time’ was the perfect choice for a single, its radio-friendly, festival-ready ambience particularly instilled by the presence of Glasser’s Cameron Merisow, her strong backing and duet-vocals a notable upgrade on the sampled vocals the band have used previously. The introduction of ‘You Know Its Right’ is fantastic, cut from the same cloth as opener ‘Spirit’ with its stonking, melodious synth-line that carries through its bubbling verses and waves of latter-day M83 enormo-synths. Further recommending the latter is the sense of it being so sonically coherent with the scale of the questions being asked in the lyrics: ones of self-doubt in the purpose and identity of their music when facing up to their audience, dealing with the conundrum of releasing intensely personal art into a wider sphere.
Its questions like these that seem particularly pertinent when the record as a whole can be so patchy. The hunks of modern Balearic-infused synth-pop Delorean offer up are intensely enjoyable, at the very least on a superficial level, but their impact is lessened over the course of an album that fails to expand its palate in any particularly distinctive ways. After Subiza the hope was that Delorean would be invigorated and liberated by that record’s accompanying acclaim to experiment more, perhaps pick up on some of the avenues explored by their fine remixing work. Unfortunately – and in the process massively over-simplifying the music scene of Northern Spain – Apar is more Crystal Fighters than John Talabot, homogeneously stagnant and instantly familiar rather than heterogeneously expansive and exhilarating.