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California Literary Review

Album review: Delilah’s From The Roots Up

Delilah - From The Roots Up, Illustration by Bee Johnson


Album review: Delilah’s From The Roots Up

Probably the most pleasant piece of difficult listening ever, it slightly reminds me of early Tori Amos records for combining relatively hard topics with pop sensibilities to an eerie effect.

Delilah - From The Roots Up, Illustration by Bee Johnson

Illustration by Bee Johnson
© 2012 California Literary Review

Delilah, From The Roots Up

Artist: Delilah
Album: From The Roots Up
Format: Physical and download
Label: Atlantic

CLR [rating:4]

Delilah first appeared as a guest vocalist on Chase & Status’ eerie, clattering and incredibly powerful Time. Her breathy, distinctive vocal made the track a stand out on No More Idols, creating an intimate, tough effect in a way that traditional drum’n’bass vocals don’t always and referencing the sort of warmth that Cold Cut and Massive Attack bring to their songs. The song itself is made for hurtling around London at night, juddering tube tracks with the hot air of the tunnel pushed ahead of a train. The tough-girl-listening-to-her-own-heart-break-in-her-earphones evocation is spectacular, on an emotional par with some of the best of 90s euphoria.

She could easily have disappeared then, like so many dance vocalists. So I was totally thrilled when she resurfaced in late 2011 with the unearthly, threatening ‘Go’ –

Taking Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and deconstructing it into a will-o’-the-wisp, prowling exhalation of lust, ‘Go’ is the ultimate cold-temperature lust song. Full of need, the desire has iced over dangerously and is turned to a possessive obsession. Delilah sounds utterly terrifying on it, all restraint and softness that’s full of unreleased but present tension, the sort of chilling, masterful vocal performance you wouldn’t expect from an artist’s first single, all mired in a smog of electronic wobble and the after-echo of a late night bar.

Then she went quiet. It was months before the 2-4am Mixtape appeared and when it did, it did so very quietly, essentially only advertised on her mailing list. That sort of makes sense for an artist giving away free music in the olden days but these days, a mixtape is a big signal-boost, a deliberate career move for an artist who offsets studio time and creative work against the rewards of exposure and increased chance of people hearing their music.

The secrecy of the tape is sort of curious- it’s almost certainly a bit of ineptitude on the part of a major label not entirely sure how to execute the manoeuvres of more underground artists. When I heard it I started to get slightly worried about whether Delilah, like Yasmin, would semi-disappear after a few singles. The mixtape itself is really great- dark and brooding and preoccupied with something confined and bedroom-quiet, talking to itself. Yet no one seemed to particularly be promoting it, which is never a great sign.

The stand-out track was a perfectly-paced ballad that used Delilah’s ability to syncopate rapid-fire vocals while making them sound icy, placid- some high priestess of wiseness-beyond-years. Nearly every other track on the mixtape made it forward to the album but for some reason The Gospel didn’t, another slightly mysterious aspect of the release. I kind of wonder if the 2-4am tape wasn’t an experiment to see if they were going to proceed with From The Roots Up at all.

Fortunately, through whatever means, they have. It came out the same week as Jessie Ware’s Devotion and earned the inevitable comparisons, both being semi-underground artists from London, serving up glossy, mainstream tunes. Ware’s album crossed over, the smooth disco influence making it potentially the Adele of 2012 but Delilah’s hasn’t, which is unjustifiable.

From The Roots Up is by no means flawless- there’s a couple of less great tracks towards the end and the trick she pulled with ‘Go,’ of heavy-sampling another song and integrating it into her own, is pulled one too many times perhaps. What’s left, though, is a haunting, intense, occasionally very sensual album of panicked, late night songs.

Clattering, shivering opener ‘Never Be Another’ is a relationship ultimatum with a a relatively high BPM but an utterly downbeat tone; it’s a strange place to start an album, sad and tired and promising the listener that there will “never be another one” to love them like she has. Break ups and absent lovers characterise the album. Prickly and tough, ‘Never Be Another’ perfectly introduces the obsessive, possessive, toughened co-dependency featured across the tracks-

The single for the album’s release was ‘Inside My Love,’ a cover of the eerie Minnie Riperton original- slowed and made glacial. Like ‘Go,’ it’s a heart-racing, sheet clutching fantasist’s night sweat. Delilah’s ability to imbue the lyrics with the sort of desperate lust that expects no realisation is spine-chilling, a tender love song turned to a sort of eerie invocation that the video turns into an elegant, dreamy and (although entirely safe for work) white-hot erotic charge, balletic and desirous-

The tension between the fear and sex is everywhere in her music, from the creepy stalker of ‘Go’ to the frustration of ‘So Irate’. Ironically, one of the few songs not to have a sexual undertone on the album is the perfectly pleasant overcoming ballad and recent single ‘Shades Of Grey,’ a spot of sunshine on an otherwise strictly nocturnal LP.

The tension of the album is what drives it, linking what ends up quite a diverse selection of musical styles (from creeping, glacial electronica to more uptempo guitar pop) and which, although I’m hesistant to call on hauntological references, invokes perfectly a big city at night. The slight vulnerability and the cold bite under a jacket, tired night bus journeys thinking things over again and again and relating to songs. Delilah’s been very keen to share her music taste with fans, creating a rolling Spotify playlist of her current favourites and the covers and tracks that sample others feel like a similar urge- like she’s taking us back to her flat to chat, favourite albums on in the background.

Another single, ‘Love You So,’ which samples Finley Quaye’s beautiful ‘Even After All’ is an interesting sample because it wears her trip-hop influences so clearly. I’m not sure that the track really pulls it off- referencing such a classic, melancholy and syncopated love song causes a potentially unflattering comparison but it feels like an intimate gesture, sharing the track as an explanation of feelings rather than ripping it off.

A great deal of the album is about insecurity, from the possessive love songs to ‘Tabitha, Mummy and Me,’ about her father going in and out of her life. The self-defensiveness makes for a fraught, tension-fuelled affair throughout. Probably the most pleasant piece of difficult listening ever, it slightly reminds me of early Tori Amos records for combining relatively hard topics with pop sensibilities to an eerie effect.

It’s an album that rewards repeat listening, from an artist with a genuinely interesting future. Delilah’s distinctive vocal and ability to use it to convey emotion are relatively rare in pop and almost always indicate a big star, which has yet to happen to her but is surely due soon.

Hazel left school on her 15th birthday and she's been writing about music ever since. She particularly likes awful noises, confessionally uncomfortable pop and clubs that can't handle her right now. She has written for "Stylus" (RIP), the BBC, "Popjustice," "The Singles Jukebox," "Thrash Hits" and many others. She is 25 and lives in an unfashionable area of London.

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