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First Listen: Delicate Steve, 'Positive Force'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson
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Delicate Steve imposes strange limitations on its music: It's largely wordless, with a primary "voice" built around Steve Marion's sinewy, high-pitched slide-guitar leads. Polyrhythms give the band's songs a skittish, jumpy quality — they often threaten to barrel ahead of themselves. But within those restrictions, or perhaps because of them, Delicate Steve's music maintains the capacity to surprise. Its two albums are guitar showcases that don't shred, dance records that don't adhere to familiar beats and classic-rock throwbacks that fan out into world music, prog, reggae, surf-rock and more, with the propulsive jitteriness of Ratatat and the sideways oddness of Dirty Projectors.

Positive Force, out July 10, doesn't advance the Delicate Steve sound terribly far beyond the strange wanderings of last year's curiously charming Wondervisions. Once again, vocals are relegated to a small handful of tracks — and even then, they merely shimmer and "ooooohhoooooohhh" in the background, though it's possible to glean the words in the title of "Two Lovers" — while guitars squeak and whir and churn all over the place. But Positive Force still feels packed, bursting with eccentric ideas and curlicues that playfully threaten to unmoor any given song altogether. It's to Steve Marion's credit that Positive Force hangs together as well as it does, sounding simultaneously like a Delicate Steve record and a dozen other things at once.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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