Album Review: Delorean, “Apar”

(Originally written for Reverb1)

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Basque club-rockers Delorean have made a name for themselves as dealers of a good times sound. You could fire up a random track from either of their best-known works, the 2009 EP “Aryton Senna” or 2010′s “Subiza” on your headphones in any Podunk locale and be whisked far away, suddenly sipping kalimotxos at some Ibizan beach party.

But while the rhythms and synths on those albums were undeniably driving,  it was almost always with a twinge of sadness. “Subiza”‘s most butt-dropping moments came saddled with lyrics like “It’s sad and it hurts” (“Real Love”) and “It got dark some time ago / Now I’m lost” (“Stay Close”). Even EP “Aryton Senna” gets its name from the last Formula One racer to die in a race.

Just one letter from “apart,” “Apar” would seem to indicate an album full of more of that same morose center. But a lot can change in three years. Delorean came into the collective music conscious in the time of Washed Out and the oft-damned “chill wave” label. At that time, they passed as a substantial entry into the genre that afforded them a relevant niche. Now, who knows? Do they still resonate? Frontman Ekhi Lopetegi offers up the same crucial question at the start of “Apar”‘s opening track, “Spirit“: “What would it be like to meet up again?”

At first, it’s thrilling. “Apar”‘s opening third delivers on the airy club numbers the band kicked out consistently on their last two outings. “Spirit” starts off with a hyperactive arpeggiated synth and a steady drumbeat that blossoms into a beautiful, swirling house track. “Destitute Time” is almost straight pop, from Caroline Polacheck’s (of Chairlift) first high note to the simple guitar riff that tracks throughout. The vocals kill the illusion of the song as a radio contender —Lopetegi’s E.S.L. delivery is hard to ignore—but it by no means blots out its fun. “Dominion” stands out for maybe one of the first pairings of maracas and zither in the world of dance music and deserves plaudits for making it them mesh so well.

It’s not that “Apar” falls off a cliff after “Dominion.” For as incomprehensible as Polacheck’s singing is on “Unhold,” it’s also enchanting, occasionally mimicking the sudden pitch change of the flute that accompanies it in parts of the track. “You Know It’s Right” has a catchy enough rhythm and “Walk High” isn’t without its 80′s-ballad charm, even if both sound strikingly similar in the drum department.

And that’s it: just four tracks in, and the album starts to bleed together. Some songs sound strikingly similar, like the two aforementioned, and others use parts recycled from earlier songs. Altered patches of that synth zither crop up in “You Know It’s Right” and “Inspire,” and though interesting and fresh the first time around, like any novelty, they lose their appeal in repetition. “Your Face” has the feel of many Delorean songs we’ve heard before, just with a slower tempo and deadened melody. By the time album closer “Still You” rolls around, the music has clumped together into a vague mass of electro-pop that’s distinctly Delorean, but not much else.

“Keep Up” is notable, in that it may be the first Delorean song wherein their glum themes bleed into the actual music, as the track features what might be the first minor chords they’ve ever recorded. But it’s also head-scratching in its aimlessness—more of an interlude than a full-fledged song—and because of its lack of fire, doesn’t have any redeeming value in the ears of your standard show-goer.

“Subiza” wasn’t Delorean’s first album, but it is the one that saw them gel into the group club kids and indie rock fans alike have tracked from venue to venue over the last three years. In it’s wake, “Apar” was advertised in a press release as a departure, an LP that’d have live instrumentation and vocals to “Subiza”‘s computer-produced beats and samples. Despite itself, though, “Apar” often comes off as a copy-paste job of the band’s preset mix of Euro-club beats and indie trappings and sounds somehow colder than its all-computerized predecessor. Repetition may be a hallmark of house music, but it’s disheartening on “Apar,” where it’s easy to hear as stagnation after a three year hiatus.

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