Over-indulging an analysis of the album’s title, one word is totally apt and the other far less so: drift perfectly reflects the lives of each song’s persona/s as they aimlessly move through life, literal and metaphoric, without any anchoring and despite whatever positive hope they might hold; sea is an unnatural fit with its number of positive connotations, and even the dual balance of ‘ebb and flow’ overstates when Willy Vlautin’s characters are inescapably stuck in the former direction.
As ever, the beauty of The Delines music frames unavoidable disappointments. Opener Little Earl is classic Vlautin storytelling where a car journey is placed within two dark poles when ‘The AC don’t work and Earl’s sick in the Gulf Coast heat’ and then the seemingly desperate drive to a hospital to perhaps save Earl’s life from an unknown injury
‘Little Earl don’t know what to do
He’s looking for a hospital even though his brother don’t want him to
He’s starting to panic he’s too scared to stop
He’s never driven at night and he keeps getting lost’
These lines are Carver-eque in their lack of explaining detail yet brooding tone. This of all songs on the album contains an ironic musical injection, the ‘Oh No, Oh No’ following the verse above – and once more after the third of four – as a choric and bright-sounding response, though clearly a universal empathy for its tragic propulsion.
The string and horn arrangements by Cory Gray make an additional prettiness as gesture to the overriding lament of the stories being told – those horns with a TexMex flavour and also plaintive harmonising as in Drowning in Plain Sight.
Amy Boone’s vocal is never more emotionally attuned to dislocation and loss than in the gorgeously sad All Along the Ride. A song about the breakdown in a relationship, this car journey is narrated through her perfect capture of life’s inevitable imperfection. The following largely horn instrumental Lynne’s Lament consolidates the beautiful despair. And then there is the simple acoustic guitar backdrop to Surfers in Twilight, that is until a horn once more weighs in with yet further sweet indifference to its storyline of the sudden disruption to an anticipated everyday meeting.
Sorrow and beauty / beauty and sorrow.
More of my reviews of Willy Vlautin’s music and writing can be found here.