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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Delicate Steve - Wondervisions: A-

Rarely do I hear an instrumentalist with an excellent knack for the nuances of so many instruments like Steve Marion, the man behind Delicate Steve. His talent is exceedingly rare with most bands. Often, a member of a group will write songs from the perspective of the instrument they play, and, as a result, make music that exaggerates theirs and diminishes others, which causes a significant loss of depth and subtlety. One can imagine how compounded this effect can be on a group in which one man plays all the instruments. However, Marion does not just pull a decent Dave Grohl job in making sure every element of Wondervisions is distinctive and supportive (because, to be honest, I’ve always felt that their self-titled was the bad egg in Foo Fighters’s discography), but a Stevie Wonder level of instrumental acuity, and if the liner notes and the title of Wondervisions are any indication, that is a pretty big fucking compliment to Mr. Marion.

Most of the accolades for Wondervisions will go to Marion’s guitar playing, which is absolutely appropriate. The guy wields his axe like the best guitarists do, which isn’t so much to show off with flashy solos, but to craft phrases that are so memorable in and of themselves, that they almost resemble the human voice in their hummability. In songs like “Welcome- Begin” and “Don’t Get Stuck (Proud Elephants),” the guitar melody progresses so beautifully, you could care less that neither features any vocal presence. In “Sugar Splash,” the man goes as far as to wring his high-register guitar lines to a squeal, making them resemble the emotive screams of a singer with an improbably high range belting their heart out. Despite its near complete lack of singing, Wondervisions is one of the most expressive albums you’ll hear all year.

However, the precision Marion exhibits on other instruments is just as impressive. Whether he’s playing a bass, manning a drum kit, or futzing with an effect pedal, Marion flaunts his restraint and confidence in a way that only performers who have exclusively played their respective instrument through years of practice have learned. The title track does not even feature a lead guitar line, Marion instead opting for a synth that is just as affecting as anything else on the album. Ambient exercises are interspersed throughout Wondervisions that are similarly excellent despite their lack of guitar presence. The album features no traditional percussion; only a few toms, some shakers and an 808 are used to propel each song. The result is a record that exudes wild-eyed innocence, the type of wonder that comes with an artist lovingly experimenting with the talents they possess. Delicate Steve resembles indie-rock optimists like Fang Island and Sun City Girls in this way, but Marion bests them both by crafting songs that boast the ambition of ten bands combined and not once sounding stretched thin of ideas.