If the emergence of two bands signals the start of something bigger, I'm really excited about the move toward playful prog rock. I've always hated the stuffy certainty and seriousness of the music that most technically astute musicians create. Giddy guitar heroes Fang Island
kicked off the sound, and recently tapped sonic brethren Delicate Steve to be their support on their current tour. Delicate Steve
's debut album, "Wondervisions," is probably the only prog album I've ever heard that I wish were longer. In addition to the austere music, the unwieldy length of most tunes turned me off to prog. Delicate Steve, also known as Steve Marion, doesn't have that problem. The guitar wizard knocks down 11 instrumental tracks in 29 minutes. Four of them are intros or interludes, leaving seven full tunes here for your smile-inducing enjoyment.
And boy, are these tunes enthusiastic. Delicate Steve prefers major keys and exuberant melodies. Standout track "Don't Get Stuck (Proud Elephants)" pairs a twinkling keys with a twangy acoustic guitar run through a mess of pedals, creating an incredibly bright and unusual sound. On highlight "Butterfly," Marion stacks guitar tracks like he's building a skyscraper, resulting in a complex but not esoteric tune that ebbs and flows into a towering conclusion. The payoff is the recurring guitar theme backed by a massive chord riff that follows the pedigree of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Bright Eyes' "Road to Joy" in high-drama entrances.
It is incredibly clear that Delicate Steve has massive songwriting skill, and that positive creates the only frustration with this album. At 29 minutes and seven full songs, it feels like he's holding back a bit. "Flyin' High" fades out at its apex, "Z Expression" leads the listener to believe something is coming that never arrives, and each of the four mini-tracks seem to foreshadow something.
Delicate Steve has only given us a taste of what he can do. It's a brilliant strategy, if that's what it is; dropping "Butterfly," "Don't Get Stuck" and "The Ballad of Speck and Pebble" on listeners creates the desire for more Delicate Steve, which Delicate Steve promises ... later. I thought cliffhangers were only for the video segment of our audio/visual entertainment.
"Wondervisions" is a great CD, featuring piles of ideas, unique riffs and an overall positive attitude. It establishes that Delicate Steve has the technical chops and the songwriting skill to make a name very quickly on the indie-rock scene. Here's to hoping he's prolific, so we get more of this excellent music ASAP.
As for "Wondervisions," you'll have to wait till Feb. 1, 2011, but you can check out some tunes from the album at his MySpace