Bel Avenir by Delta MainlineRelease date: May 3, 2019
Label: Rehab Sound Recordings
Six years ago I stumbled across Edinburgh’s Delta Mainline by chance, the lure of the list of bands they claimed as influences meant I had to investigate. Their debut album Oh! Enlightened was a melting pot of garage rockers, blissed out blues bangers, glorious soaring folk and hymnal ballads, all showing an expertly way with arrangements. It may have taken a long time to release the follow-up Bel Avenir, but the four years of creativity, interspersed with some trauma hasn’t been wasted. This album is really quite special.
Mixed by Paul Savage (Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, Teenage Fanclub) and recorded across Chamber, Chem19 and Castlesound Studios (with additional sessions at the historic Govan Town Hall and a cottage in the Scottish Highlands), the album is bursting with wonderful sounds throughout. During the making of the album band members left and there was the feeling it might not get completed. Thankfully the creative spirit drove the remaining members on and what is left is a tremendous set of songs that manage to be euphoric and melancholic at the same time.
Kicking things off is the urgent opener ‘Folk Stories & Fairytales’ which lurches forth on an express train krautrock beat, the depth of instrumentation revealing all manner of twinkles and voices, before exploding into a glorious rush of Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips euphoria. On ‘Still Morning’ David McLachlan’s heavenly vocoder vocals roll out a melody of equal joy and sadness. The multitude of wondrous sounds have been lovingly created and the swooning strings and choral voices that soar angelically over the song make for a stunning listen. This is supreme dream pop and I love it. As part of an opening trilogy where the vocals have all been textured with some form of effect wizardry ‘Only History’ spins out into a Spiritualized inspired organ bliss-out.
The Spaceman influence is also at the forefront of the(e) hypnotic garage rock blaster ‘Visions of Post America’ which goes full-on with the choirs, saxophones, fizzy organ and hallucinogenic repetitive loops. The first holy shit moment on the album comes when this song erupts into a beautiful hymn with the choir and organs coming over like a Sunday morning church service. If Jason Pierce is true to his word about quitting his current moniker then Delta Mainline are the new heirs to that throne.
After the bluster of the first four songs, things get all campfire on the calming ’22:23 in Rome’, you can actually hear crackles of burning sticks. The swirling electronic whooshes and rolling piano make for a wondrous eloquent backdrop to allow an unshackled (from effects) David to prepare himself for the what lies ahead. Delta Mainline have been teasing us so far, it’s from here on that things get REALLY good. There once was an incredible Scottish band, My Latest Novel, who made elegiac indie/folk albums and ‘Deep Winter’s Isolation’ echoes those songs with a gorgeous melody and sweet violins. Hopping back onto the Spaceman bus, ‘Jesus in a Minor Key’ is an up-tempo krautrock-er that builds on layered guitars and keyboards and the vocal effects get another wee flick of the switch.
Here it is. One of the finest songs I have heard in a long while. The swooning and beautiful ‘Mountain Music’ is pure aural gold. A haunting folk/country inflected ballad of pedal steel and shuffling percussion, the song dreamily drifts along encompassing you with every note. When that violin solo tumbles along it is a genuinely beautiful and heart breaking moment that gets me every time. (There have been many times).
When Dave Fridmann was guiding Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips through their prime time, the sound he was creating was all psychedelic Disney fairyland wonderment and Delta Mainline tap into that sound bigtime on ‘Love Without Fear’. It’s bursting with magic and transports you to a place that is other worldly before a Mogwai sized post-rock storm arrives and the guitars go apocalyptic. You don’t expect David to start declaring “We’re all so fucked up!” but that’s exactly what he does. ‘A Document of Human Weakness’ is another dreamy song that is the vehicle for a gorgeous guitar solo that unexpectedly rolls along. Unlike anything else on the album the band pull in some stellar sounds and throw a lorry load of keyboards into the mix for a curious and delightful pop song. Album closer ‘Skin & Bones’ is a melancholic ballad that plays it pretty straight with sumptuous strings and gorgeous pedal steel. I’m weak at the knees when the tambourine taps and fuzzy guitars appear to drive the song into blissed out territories.
This truly is an album to treasure and every play reveals so many new sounds and intricate patterns. The writing is of such a high standard that the songs could stand on their own if stripped of the stunning arrangements. Yes, Delta Mainline are guilty of heavily tapping into their influences and the links are obvious but I’m alright with this as the bands they poach from are my favourite artists too. It’s also pertinent to note they borrow from the finest hours of those acts. I knew Delta Mainline were special on hearing that amazing debut album, but they didn’t get the breaks they deserved and seemed to fade away. The news of their return pleased me greatly and the fact that Bel Avenir is such a triumph excites me immeasurably. A contender for album of the year.