Much of Phase Zero passes by like smoke.
Morgan Delt operates within an alternate dimension wherein the psychedelic ‘60s never end and its practitioners exist in a perpetual lysergic haze. From his hushed tenor and warm, analog production on down, Delt’s albums carry with them the feel of some lost psych classic. So enamored of this very specific era and style of late-‘60s popular music is Delt that, were any number of his tracks placed on a period-specific compilation it would take only the most fervent fans of psych rock to spot the fake.
Having made the jump from Trouble in Mind to Sub Pop for the release of this, his second album, Phase Zero does little to improve upon or even retool the sound he perfected on his self-titled debut. So fully realized was his artistic vision on 2014’s Morgan Delt that to mess with the formula for his follow up would have been a mistake. Instead, Phase Zero offers more of the same, if not more sprawling psychedelia.
Images of Eastern mysticism and journeying beyond the astral plane dominate Phase Zero, landing the lyrics squarely within the requisite hippie psych territory from which Delt has culled his musical persona. Unfortunately, he often sounds so bogged down in a psychedelic morass that it prevents any of Phase Zero’s tracks from moving beyond that of a slow, stoned crawl. Because of this, while certainly pleasant, the album has an unfortunate air of uniformity, each track relying on an almost formulaic system of layered instruments topped with Delt’s feather-light tenor soaring high above. So gauzy are his vocals that they often obscure the lyrics to the point of rendering them inconsequential, the melodies becoming the primary focus.
But this seems to be the intent as the album itself ultimately plays as a coherent whole, one track subtly bleeding into the next with little space in between. So innocuous are the transitions that it’s often difficult to tell where one track ends and another begins. By no means a back-handed compliment, it instead speaks to the level of quality inherent in the album. Opening track “I Don’t Want to See What’s Happening Outside” sets the tone, picking up approximately where Morgan Delt left off, gently easing into this new collection of songs with a seamlessness that makes each feel more of a piece than distinct artistic statements.
On “Sun Powers” it’s as though he finally feels compelled to come to life enough to push the tempo into a slightly faster shuffle, adding slightly more strident instrumentation to help enliven the track. This rousing of self carries through not only to the next track, but also through much of the remainder of the album. “The Age of the Birdman” is a note-perfect recreation of the outer edges of lo-fi soft psych, magisterial in its simplicity and sounding like a companion piece to Alain Goraguer’s haunting score for the surrealist psychedelic cult classic La Planète Sauvage.
Phase Zero continues to build on itself from here, pushing the music into pleasantly predictable directions, relying on a host of psych rock tropes, each executed to near perfection. Yet given the stylistic sameness inherent throughout, much of Phase Zero passes by like smoke. It’s an ideal headphone listen for spacing out and getting irretrievably lost in one’s own thoughts. Wisely, Delt elects to stick to that which he does best, making Phase Zero a worthy successor and fine installment in the growing catalog of contemporary revivalist psych rock acts.