Two years ago, a lanky guy strung together a weird band name to label his equally weird music seemingly carving out a genre of its own. A tongue-in-cheek press release penned by Chuck Klosterman, a collaboration with manic drummer Zach Hill of Hella, and a signing with Luaka Bop later, Steve Marion has rose to more prominence with his screwy guitar noodling. In 2011, under the moniker Delicate Steve, Marion concocted a debut full-length called Wondervisions that sounded like a carbonated drink that pops in your ears, proving that instrumental rock could, in fact, be fun to sing-a-long to.
Whereas Wondervisions is comprised of explosions of fuzzy fizz against a jangly, worldly backdrop, sophomore release Positive Force chases after Delicate Steve’s handcrafted “lyricism” via a hyperactive slide guitar. The catch, of course, is that there aren’t any actual lyrics. Instead, the wail of a chipmunk-like guitar sings charismatically over a bed of harmonies that are more mellow and homogenous than those of Wondervisions. On his debut, Delicate Steve was endlessly and impatiently bouncing from one idea to another, and on Positive Force, Steve has found a clear niche in which to inhabit.
To emphasize the strong singular “voices” in Positive Force, Delicate Steve incorporates more human voices this time around. Interestingly enough, these vocals still remain ambiguous and only act as harmonic support for the melodies carried out by the album’s true headliner, Steve’s illustrious guitar. Yet the vocals allow Positive Force to physically embrace a more human form. In “Two Lovers,” and “Big Time Receiver,” unison vocals with long phrases create a soothing warmth to Steve’s bubbly guitar lines.
Additionally, these outspoken melodies are supported by subdued, toned down kit machine beats. Without the overzealous tempo that defined Wondervisions, Positive Force allows the lyrical melodies to fully develop with more body, another device that strengthens the complex melodies.
Even though most of the album remains within a fairly constrained box of jumpy art-pop, something nevertheless carried over from their previous world music-inflected debut is a pseudo-Carribean jaunt reminiscent of Wondervisions‘ Tropicalia-inspired rhythms. “Tallest Heights” starts boldly with the melodic guitar before a flourish of an upbeat riff that takes after reggae cuts and the single “Afria Talks to You” has a funky, laid-back vibe that recalls the groove of its Sly & the Family Stone namesake.
However, “Wally Wilder” definitely takes the cake as a quintessential Steve composition. An aged, more mature melody that still hints back at the playfulness of Wondervisions with multiple shrills and turns, it feels like Delicate Steve grew up a bit with this sophomore release without quite losing his curiosity. Still not hesitating to let his guitar slide explore the fingerboard, Delicate Steve’s Positive Force just showcases a more focused direction in which to wander.