“Driesh” sounds like one of those arcane words which early-Noughties art-rockers festoon their work with. It’s actually the name of one of Delicate AWOL’s favourite mountains. When not hiding out in Stockwell recording increasingly soulful post-rock melodies, they’ve got a taste for scrambling cheerfully up the heights of the Scottish highlands, all fleeces and crampons.
On the subject of mountain climbing (sort of), Delicate AWOL are still ascending. ‘Driesh’ is their finest EP to date. It’s not a question of ambition, more one of balance. Delicate AWOL have never sounded more balanced, more aware of music as an expression of what is instead of what you force it to be.
The magnificent Dust – a majestic, footsore sway of poignant, lead-heavy guitars – demonstrates this principle. The first time you hear it you have no idea what it is: you’re just caught up in Caroline Ross’ powerful and moving, yet surrendering, vocal. The second time, you realize where the surrender comes from. This is a paean to pollutants, no less: small things which change our immediate world with neither our volition nor our involvement. And this is a song that finds, without a hint of irony, beauty in these changes; honing that balance with acceptance and a fine-art vision. “Dust from satellites fills the skies, / lends an orange hue to buildings they designed in grey /… Dirt from satellites coats the meteorites, / shares its redder touch with rocks that are mostly dust. / And I give thanks for dust.”
Off to one side, Evergreen China Prairie Tribunal is one of the band’s affectionate amblings into mutant country/Hawaiian instrumentals. Short guitar notes are stretched lazily and luxuriantly during their brief lifespans; slide guitar, flown behind like a kite, does some happy yawning. The drums and bass patter on, chattering like a pair of old mule drivers on a slow road.
On the other side, the quietly swarming clang of Moggie is one of Delicate AWOL’s periodic nods to Mogwai’s crowded fuzz-riffing. However, it’s more homespun, imbued with a positive energy rather than Mogwai’s rampant insecurity. Where Mogwai are tight and tense, Delicate AWOL are endearingly woolly: they’re unconcerned with occasional sloppy accents, and lessen the weight on the guitars to let light sliding curls of notes unravel from the ends of the song. Caroline’s soft, half-buried wail drifts in like a cat singing in the hallway.
Only one song on the EP goes against this serene and meditative stasis. In the languid, perturbed awakening of What In The World To Do Ingrid, Caroline serenades a woman whose stasis is a matter of routine, and an unwelcome routine at that. “Had enough of breaking bread, / had enough of freaking out. / What in the world to do, Ingrid? / Summer will be here sooner now.” As faintly ominous guitars stir against Caroline’s questioning, they hint that Ingrid’s own nature, under stress, is beginning to crack both her routine and her normality. “Rising inside her – / another, more beautiful woman. / Caught another glimpse of her, hiding in the mirror frame. / What in the world to do, Ingrid? / she’ll be taking over sooner than…”
Just when you think this is going to turn into another tale of a woman slipping into madness, there’s a happier transformation. A joyous hand-clapping lift and gurgles of Hammond organ (the latter straight out of old Memphis R’n’B), and the song becomes a story about stripping off the safety of a firm uniform in favour of striding off naked but unburdened. Caroline sings out another question – “Could it be worse?” – but with the brightening quizzical tones of someone who knows that it won’t be.
Delicate AWOL: ‘Driesh’
day Release Records Ltd., DR401 (no barcode)
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Long-deleted – try to find this second-hand.