Del Rey – Speak It Not Aloud

2 out of 5

Label: My Pal God

Produced by: Jason Ward

This is a very important record to me. It introduced me to Del Rey – a band I would hype to a lot of people as an alternative to the usual instrumental-band suspects at the time – and definitely the release that rather solidified an affinity for the My Pal God label, which would guide me to much great music along the way, on through its rebirth as Comedy Minus One. Indeed, I still collect MPG and CMO, and I still listen to a lot of Del Rey. But not this album…?

And my memories of Speak It Not Aloud – despite having put this disc through the listening ringer at the time – tend to only accompany some high points on the album: namely its intro and outro tracks. The concept of the group, which mixes Tortoise-esque ambience with Dianogah bass-y warmth and the group’s dual drummer hook – which isn’t overused, I swear, and you might not even know it’s happening without being told! – is perfect; but the execution, I realize, is rather less than the sum of those parts.

‘Speak It Not Aloud’ is an ironic title in this sense: the “unspoken” attempt to seamlessly knit the above mentioned elements together results in it being too seamless; whenever the mix starts to veer towards something with a bit of personality – those bookends – the group almost automatically veers away, either in the form of the next song, or the album ending. Indulging in this would make followup album Darkness & Distance so much better, and then learning how to kind of absorb that indulgence into their own approach would evolve over the next two discs. But here, it’s all caution, and the little nuanced touches throughout – the purposeful slivers of percussion and electronic burbles – do not necessarily enhance things, rather just lay atop them, daintily. Normally I’d credit something like this as an average listen, played and produced well, but it’s so milquetoast and inoffensive and without identity that it feels almost, er, like a waste of time to listen to it… which is not a good look.

And so I kind of get why my constant playing of this disc and foisting it on others didn’t seem to catch: it was forest for the trees; I saw the forest, others saw the trees, recognized that Tortoise et al. were maybe partying in better curated forests, and moved on. I’d say that things eventually flourished and blossomed, making the roots – I swear I’m not trying to stick with the metaphor at this point – of Speak It Not Aloud interesting, but it’s all formative stuff, and would take time (two years) to turn into something that can actually hold attentions.