History From Below plays like Delta Spirit’s stripped down B-side to 2008’s Ode to Sunshine. As that term suggests there are none of the standouts like “Thrashcan” or “People C’mon” contained here yet the band continue to experiment. “White Table” is one of the better efforts, at once sonically barren yet pulsing with promise until springing alive halfway through; a neat trick. “Bushwick Blues” bounces along at an urgently brisk pace, and “Golden State” is an exuberant piano pounding rhythmic shake-fest, both are infectious highpoints.
The biggest distraction contained on History From Below is that the bands lyrical output hasn’t evolved much at all and with the simpler song structures they become more of a focus. While Matthew Vasquez injects an urgency and passion with his vocals, what he is saying falls flat more often then it invigorates. “Ransom Man” seems to deal with an abusive relationship but then gets a bizarre chorale treatment that blows up the tension, while “Devil Knows Your Dead” is just a list of clichés.
The disk closing tale of a plane crash and its aftermath called “Ballad of Vitality” is a head scratcher and “Salt in the Wound” ultimately bores. When the lyrics seem to work they are paired with music that dilutes their impact, an example would be “9/11” with its questioning/angry take overridden by a sunshine 50’s swinging jaunt complete with “oooh’s and aah’s”.
Delta Sunshine is wrestling as to how best juxtapose or capture their praised live acts on a record, with History From Below they produced a starker tone, perhaps next time they will find a better balance.