Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - The Days of Mars
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Let me make a few things clear, right off the bat: I love DFA. I love electronic music of all varieties. I love Detroit techno, Kraftwerk, Pal Joey, Kompakt, and Ricardo Villalobos. I love Tangerine Dream, Steve Reich, Manuel Gottsching, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. I love the experimental, the beat-laden, the minimal, and the repetitive. I even love Delia & Gavin’s previous releases, under their own names and as Black Leotard Front.
And given all of that, I am frustrated to say that I literally can’t stand The Days of Mars.
When this record first turned up in my mailbox, I will admit that I was excited to hear it, more so than most other promo discs that come my way in a given week. As I said, I like DFA and their previous 2005 releases (LCD Soundsystem and the Juan Maclean chief among them, and the vast majority of singles and LPs in the few years before that, too) had really hit me well, and I felt the label was on a roll. I got the mail at lunch time, hustled back to work and stuck the disc in immediately.
By three minutes in, I was confused. It appeared to be building to something, and I was intrigued as to where it was going. Arpeggiated synths, growing and growing and building and throbbing, seemingly endless in a fairly short amount of time. By ten minutes in, I was starting to get skeptical. Where was this going? Was it going anywhere at all? What would the next track be like? Where are the beats? This is on DFA?!?
By 15 minutes in, I had my answers: it would all be just like this track with very slight variations, but essentially the same schtick over the course of four 10-minute-plus tracks. I was literally baffled. It is a massive tease. It just builds and builds and never climaxes, never pays off in the slightest. Musical blue balls.
As I stated at the start, I am a fan—a big fan in fact—of many of the artists that Delia & Gavin are channeling here, and because of the striking similarities, I can only assume they are big fans, as well. But in making this relentlessly dynamic album with no payoff whatsoever, they were insulting the very spirit in which those original records were made. I was insulted by this record. Did they think I wouldn’t get what they were trying to do? It just seemed lazy, as if they said to themselves, “Hey, let’s make a tune like that one Tangerine Dream song from Risky Business,” and then, liking what they had done, decided to make it over and over and over again. If they had made “Rise” (a previous single in DFA-remixed form) the album opener and then gone somewhere from there—and not even somewhere good or interesting, just somewhere at all—I would have thought it was cool. But they essentially made the same tune, four times in slightly different keys and with slightly different background noodling.
Clearly they are a talented and creative pair: one look at their stage shows and goofy costumes tell you that. And obviously they appreciate some classic electronic work, as do I. So what happened? I suppose more than anything what bothers me about this album is that given the ingredients and pedigrees and influences, it could have been so much more. As it is, it is either an homage gone wrong, or a piss-take of epic proportions. Either way, it sure doesn’t make me want to play the thing ever again, not all the way through anyway.
A few friends of mine liked this record, and in fact, liked it a lot. Hell, Stylus gave it a winning mark against my better judgment. The common refrain was a dismissive, “You just don’t get what they were trying to do.” Well, unfortunately I know exactly what they were trying to do. I just happen to think they failed miserably. Consider this a personal plea to Delia and Gavin: Come on, guys. You are better than this. Or at least knowing what you know and loving what you love, you should be. Because if this is your best effort... enjoy eating ramen and that singular joy of seeing your CD sitting in the dollar bin at Tower.