Twenty years from now, I expect we'll look back on Bon Iver's 2011 self-titled record as as much of a paradigm shifting moment for folk music as Bob Dylan's band picking up an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival was in 1965. Alternative folk has been as fractured and gloriously diverse as any other genre of music (the fact that "freak folk" is the preferred self-appellation for Animal Collective should tell you all you need to know there), but most folk acts tend to stick to their acquired niche, whether that be folk-punk, twee, folk-country, or the more traditional old school. But, it takes one listen to "Perth" or "Beth/Rest" to know that Justin Vernon decided he wanted to be anything and everything at once and somehow succeeded in maintaining the spiritual and understated intimacy we associate with the best folk.
Into the Wide, the fourth LP from San Diego soulful folkers sounds nothing like Bon Iver. But like Justin Vernon's opus, on this latest record, you hear a band that has struggled against the chains of genre and has managed to break utterly free. With their roots in classic Americana folk & soul, Delta Spirit have managed to craft a record that incorporates arena ready rock anthems, psychedelic textures, noise rock interludes, and the melancholic drama of classic country. They do all this without once becoming disjointed, and by the end, Into the Wide is handily one of the freshest and most exciting folk rock records of the 2010s.
Let's make this simple for you. Two of the (many) standout tracks on the record are "Live On" and "War Machine." It seems metaphysically impossible for them to sound any more different (other than the constant presence of Matthew Vasquez's soaring vocals). Yet, neither feels out of place on the record. "Live On" is the album's sure-fire radio single. A propulsive bit of Springsteen via the Pixies via Mumford & Sons, it's a track meant to be played top volume and screamed along with at the top of your lungs. But, then on the back half of the record, you get "War Machine." It's a subdued but dramatic baroque number more appropriate perhaps for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea than any contemporary peers. But the sincerity and urgency of Vasquez's delivery and the furtive (without being melodramatic) pleas of his lyrics find a place and stylistic unity that holds these two disparate songs together.
And that constant experimentation without abandoning themselves to chaos is present throughout the whole record. "Push It" is a soulful spin on lush orchestration. "Take Shelter" sounds like the child of R.E.M. and the Lone Bellow. In fact, throughout the record, there's an echo of 1980s alternative rock (particularly the post-punk acts) hiding behind a corner. The foreboding percussion speaks to a darkness that you follow from track to track but it forever remains just out of sight.
If a record has cross-genre appeal, it's Into the Wide and I suspect that when it's released, it's going to speak to a lot of people, but especially fans of similarly experimental folk acts like Milo Greene. Baeble shot a session with Delta Spirit that will be premiering this week. And, it's a hell of a session, and we can't wait to show it to you, but not even that session will be able to prepare you for the leap forward this band has managed to make on this record. It's something special.