B.B. King never sings while he plays. It’s a rule. As he’s said of his anthropomorphically named guitar, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
Luckily Steve Marion doesn’t have to worry about that problem.
Marion, more commonly known as Delicate Steve, isn’t a singer. Nor is he a lyricist. In most musical realms, that would sign the fragile one’s death warrant, especially in a civilization that glorifies a good chorus or tagline as the end all be all of great music (See: YOLO). Luckily, Delicate Steve exists in a parallel universe.
Delicate Steve is first and foremost a musician–a curious mind whose talents have graced over 40 different instruments, many of which started as experiments in the basement of his parents’ home in New Jersey. He is also a songwriter, whose compositional exploits have led him to release his second album in two years.
Like its predecessor, Positive Force, the follow-up LP to 2010’s Wondervisions, contains few discernable lyrics. However you want to interpret that, it doesn’t really take away from the fact that Marion’s sophomore album is a tour de force. Upbeat as ever and building off the structural framework off its creator’s debut, Positive Force is an album that lacks comparison. It’s not Ratatat, nor is it Explosions In The Sky–instrumental bands that have found some form of mainstream success without singers. It’s somewhere between the smile of a child with melted ice cream plastered to their face and Jimi Hendrix jamming, guitar pointed to the sky. Joy.
Take “Wally Wilder,” whose high-pitched guitar wails ascend to peaks that only air guitarists can attain. The same goes for opener “Ramona Reborn” a deliciously layered track of slide guitars and electronic organs, all of which have been played, arranged, produced (polished, cleaned and hand-crafted–kidding) by the multitalented Marion.
Clocking in at around 35 minutes, Positive Force isn’t your typical instrumental album with drawn out songs and epic builds. In fact, don’t even call it instrumental. “Wordless” is the adjective Steve would prefer you to use, desiring a synergistic feel that begs listeners to sing along to tracks that prefer guitar twang to the warble of vocal cords. Indeed, voices do show up; the drawn out chant of the song title on “Two Lovers” is a prime example. But even then, they are just instruments, maintaing a ritualistic tempo as acoustic guitars and peaceful environmental sounds are thrown in the mix: crickets chirping and the rush of a single car driving by in the night. On the similarly titled “Love” a steady rush of vocal “Woos”–a la The Beach Boys–gives way to plucky strings that fades away before returning for the four-minute “Redeemer.”
Despite playing more instruments than the average person could likely name, Delicate Steve acknowledges a certain guitar-centricity to Positive Force. It’s reverence for Marion’s influences from Hendrix to George Harrison, virtuosic guitarmen in their own rights. On the Sly Stone hat tip “Afria Talks To You,” Marion’s scrawny fingers run across the fretboard with soulful abandon–all “Lucile” with Steve in the background pulling the strings. That relationship is tempered to perfection on the album’s title track. With Delicate Steve weaving in and out of a melody, “Positive Force” is a perfect encapsulation of it’s mother album, a perfected wander of pure aural bliss.
Delicate Steve- Positive Force (download)
Delicate Steve- Two Lovers (download)