Every once in a while I like to put particular record labels that I feel consistently release compelling music in the spotlight. For instance, anyone who regularly reads this site knows that I’m a huge fan of 5 Rue Christine (Deerhoof, Hella, Xiu Xiu, et cetera). Before I begin discussing Psuedosix’s Days of Delay, I’d like to send some praise to the label that released it. Over the last couple of years, Michigan label 54’40” or Fight! has gathered up a roster full of arty and hard-rocking bands whose music forces critics, myself included, to trot out overused adjectives and phrases like “angular,” “discordant,” “progressive” and “math-rock,” occasionally all at once. If the names Chavez, Shudder to Think, Don Caballero, Storm and Stress, or Dismemberment Plan mean anything to you, you might as well write a $100 check out to the label right now and ask them to send you any ten of their releases. I’ve already put MY money where my mouth is, as I own records by more than half of the artists on its roster. (Dilute, the Life and Times, and 31Knots are especially recommended.)
This makes it all the more surprising that the latest addition to the 54’40” winning streak is an album that doesn’t sound like ANY of the aforementioned bands. Don’t get it twisted: Days of Delay is still a rock record. However, it’s a quiet, reflective, and mostly acoustic record, one that would fit more snugly with Bedhead or Palace in your collection. It begins with the most appropriate introduction I’ve heard on a record so far this year: a backbeat in which a beating heart is the “kick” and a muted guitar strum is the “snare.” After that, the first thing you notice is front man Tim Perry’s flat, double-tracked croaking, which positions itself in the midpoint between Tim Kinsella and Will Oldham. Occasionally, it sounds as if Perry’s incapable of holding a note for more than a millisecond, but his quiet singing and indelible melodies more than compensate for such a limitation.
This Portland trio has a number of good things going for them. One is the striking economy of their arrangements. The fifteen songs on this record are, on average, less than three minutes a piece, often riding on little more than two chords, two verses, and the occasional unexpected climax. The instrumental and vocal flourishes are what keep the songs interesting. “Crooked Carousel” benefits from three intertwining guitar lines, as well as judicious piano and organ embellishments. “Center, Empty Circle” and “Hazardous Movements” have cracked group harmonies that are almost as entrancing at the Joggers’. On “Love and Logic,” the same verse is repeated twice. However, when the verse comes in the second time, Perry changes one crucial word and raises his voice an octave. His backing band ups the intensity in equal proportion, and this tactic makes ALL the difference.
Another of Days of Delay’s strong points is Ely’s knack for inserting a pithy lyrical couplet or triplet in almost every song. I hate to insert autobiography into this review, but on “Bound to Unfold,” he sings words that completely relate to where I’m at emotionally: “I’m on the cusp of some very good things. I don’t like your jokes and I don’t like your apathy. None of that weight is of value to me.” I think Ely’s saying that a man who wishes to get his life together doesn’t need to be dragged down by doubtful peers. “Madness,” an appropriately named song which briefly refers to demon possession, Ely refers to his dilemma as “a poorly kept secret,” and begs it to “knock first just in case I’m not decent.” It’s a fitting analogy for people who are tired of being short-circuited by the trappings of their own mind. In “The Next One,” Ely looks with dread upon a trying situation that he knows he can’t escape, and envies the comparatively calmer who have already endured said trial. The song’s concluding hollers serve as a perfect release from the slowly building tension (once again, a testament to Pseudosix’s superb arranging skills). “Put Your Back to the Sun” is sung from the point of view of a war veteran who no longer identifies with the government he serves. If any album I’ve heard this month deserves to have an accompanying lyric sheet, it’s this one.
Like most debut albums, Days of Delay has its weaknesses. “You Started Something” is marred by awkward spoken vocals, but that’s a minor quibble. This album’s main flaw is its sequencing. The final third of the record consists almost entirely of solo acoustic songs. They hold up well on their own, but when grouped together they start to sound alike, which might cause some listeners to lose interest. Spreading the full-band tracks across the record would have been a better idea than putting most of them in the album’s first half. However, an album with fourteen good songs that just happen to be in the wrong order is still better than what most young bands deliver. Days of Delay is definitely worth checking out.