Wondervisions, Steve Marion’s debut album as Delicate Steve, suggested the virtuosic guitarist was a sort of Durutti Column for an era at least partially defined by the sprightly, continent-hopping pop of Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. All jittery, lightning-flash guitars gleaned from Afro Pop and skronking electronics with occasional wordless coos floating distantly through the mix, Wondervisions was abstract and adventurous, yet ultimately blissful. Delicate Steve’s second effort, Positive Force, follows a similar sonic blueprint, and many of Marion’s influences can still be traced about the globe in disparate directions, yet a few key signs of growth are immediately apparent from the opening notes of the album.
For starters, Delicate Steve apparently has spent his share of recent hours (or days) with George Harrison’s brilliant triple LP All Things Must Pass, as the former Beatle’s soulful slide playing informs Positive Force just as much as the jubilant, skittering guitars common to Highlife music. ‘Love’ and ‘Two Lovers’, the most palatable tracks here – and not coincidentally, the two songs on Positive Force which feature relatively prominent vocals – even have a bit of a sunny lilt that recalls Revolver-era Beatles. It’s not hard to imagine songs this immediate (or perhaps more accurately, market-tested knock-off versions) popping up in the latest overly sentimental auto advertisement. And that’s a claim that’s difficult to make about anything on Wondervisions. As warm as that album is, its scrappy, pasted-together feel makes it potentially alienating for less daring listeners.
And while that might read like a backhanded compliment, it actually speaks to the boldest change Delicate Steve has made with Positive Force: burnishing the roughest edges of his sound and inching toward accessibility without abandoning his rather ecstatic pop vision.
If anything, this more focused approach brings the guitarist’s unique strengths into sharper relief. For instance, even outright experiments like ‘Touch’, a minute-long sketch of ping-ponging, heavily processed vocals and hypnotically plucked guitars, feels purposeful thanks to Positive Force’s more animated and polished production. Similarly, near-ambient album closer ‘Luna’ achieves a spacious, elegant shimmer that would have been out of Marion’s reach on his rapturously cluttered debut.
Likewise, this more clearer-headed approach allows him to wring a remarkable emotional complexity out of a series of guitar leads that tend to closely parallel one another, as evidenced by album opening highlights ‘Ramona Reborn’ and ‘Wally Wilder’, the former glowing with a solemn spiritual reverence while the latter finds Marion’s guitar frolicking with a gloriously uninhibited, childlike zeal.
To compare Delicate Steve’s two albums in visual terms (which is something music this vibrant practically demands), Wondervisions may have had a more eclectic palette, but Positive Force’s hues are far richer. And while it’s still difficult to tell whether Marion could be better pegged as the Harrison or Vini Reilly of Brooklyn’s polyrhythmic pop scene, it’s also highly likely that such a distinction is irrelevant: with Positive Force, Delicate Steve has made a major step toward crystallising his own identity, and has done so not by sacrificing his more exploratory impulses, but by streamlining them into rainbow-bright beacons of heartfelt experimental pop.
Listen to Positive Force