I really have no clue how this CD arrived in my mailbox. I don’t remember the band or label e‑mailing me, but one day it just appeared. And boy am I glad it did, because I’ve been listening to this disc non-stop since then. With Heart Drops From the Great Space, Delicate AWOL have crafted an intriguing mix of jazzy, Chicago-style post-rock (yes, be prepared for a Tortoise comparison or two), the tight, interlocking compositions of Do Make Say Think, and the sweet female-laced noodlings of Stereolab and Broadcast.
The thing I like most about this release is that it keeps me guessing. You’re not quite sure where songs are going to go, and the route they end up taking is usually far more interesting than any you would’ve conceived. Even after listening to the disc several times, there are still songs that delight me with the way they suddenly change direction and mood without losing their integrity. Even more impressive is that you’ve heard all of these sounds before. Just listen to the band’s guitar tones and programming and try not to think of Tortoise’s TNT. But I don’t care… Delicate AWOL still makes it sound fresh and interesting.
“That Terminal’s Down” spends the first 3 and a half minutes or so meandering around, with ebbing guitar tones, keys, breathy female vocals (courtesy of Caroline Ross), and rainsticks. Then, out of nowhere, the disparate elements come together in a tight groove à la Do Make Say Think’s & Yet & Yet. The title track takes on a dirtier sound, with distorted guitars and clashing percussion railing against eerie analog synths with the “suspense movie” setting on high. The second part of the song adopts a more delicate air, with sighing female vocals and drifting horns intertwining with sparse guitars and a smooth bassline. It takes on a soul-influenced direction, quite a contrast to how the song was moving just a minute ago.
Both “Time and Motion Studies Deep Underground” and “Chance Thought at Flannel Port” are songs that Stereolab might have written if they’d come out of the early ’90s 4AD camp, or spent more time with This Mortal Coil than Neu!. The former weds lush, dreamy female vocals with guitar melodies that sound like they were carved from glass. The latter brings in equally lush strings, and the vocal melody resembles something vaguely His Name Is Alive-ish (more Home Is in Your Head than Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth).
In keeping with their post-rock leanings, the album closes with its most abstract track, “Body of Pain.” Here, all of Delicate AWOL’s forays into avant-whatever finally come bubbling to the music’s surface. Bubbling, clicking analog synths sputter away like one of Aphex Twin’s epileptic rhythms trapped in molasses, tentative guitarwork plucks away, and horns drift in from Bark Psychosis’ “Pendulum Man.” While parts of Heart Drops From the Great Space often adopt a downright funky air, “Body of Pain” spreads itself out, perfectly content to meander around and develop patiently.