Scotland has seen its fair share of indie pop/rock artists go
abroad, from Belle & Sebastian to this year’s ubiquitous
band of the moment, Franz Ferdinand. The most underappreciated of
these, The Delgados, look to surpass both their own and their
peers’ success with Universal Audio.
The quartet became the center of the Glasgow music scene with
its Chemikal Underground label, which jumpstarted the career of
cerebral-rock act Mogwai and also released three of The
Delgados’ own critically acclaimed albums. Their new release
continues a trend of musical excellence, but in a different manner.
The sound and mood of Universal Audio departs greatly from the
large orchestral and darker pieces that dominated their previous
albums, including 2002’s Hate. Here, the Delgados deliver the
aural definition of what indie pop/rock should be. The listener
discerns the playful mood and summery harmonies to come in the lead
track “I Fought the Angels.” A simple repetitive guitar
line and the beautiful union of lead vocalists Alun Woodward and
Emma Pollock blossom into an unforgettable track featuring no real
refrain or hook. With fewer instruments and simpler production
involved, Pollock’s voice consistently shines through and
carries the album to the levels of playful indie pop that exceeds
that of their peers, Belle & Sebastian and Rilo Kiley.
Woodward’s vocal contributions, however, fall short of
anything special. They are instead featured on the worst track on
the entire album, “Is This All I Came For?” The song
sticks out with its bland, late ’80s ballad sound and is
unforgettable because it leaves the listener wondering how it could
get on an otherwise consistently great CD. Woodward is better
suited accompanying Pollock on tracks such as “Girls of
Valour.” Essentially a tribute to the melodic complexities of
the Beach Boys, the chorus features Woodward’s layered vocals
interjected by Pollack’s sweet voice, creating their most
radio-friendly song yet.
The Delgados, however, don’t entirely abandon their darker
past. The haunting “Come Undone” features a lone piano
plunked slowly and apprehensively as Pollack’s soft voice
crescendos into a moody chorus repeating, “This how it feels
to drown / This is how we come undone.” The band’s
ability to meld such dynamic songs together and create magnificent
music may not be fully appreciated upon the first listen. But with
each additional listen, The Delgados’ fun and freewheeling
music makes Universal Audio an addictive release.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.