The Delines strike a chord with ‘The Imperial’

Photo courtesy of Decor Records

Every so often it is possible to go about one’s daily life and stumble across a gem. That is what listening to The Deline’s new album “The Imperial” is like. 

Formed in Portland, Oregan in 2012, by Amy Boone, Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists, Sean Oldham and Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine, and Tucker Jackson, The Delines have yet to achieve a level of popularity that they certainly deserve.

They released their first album, “Colfax”, to generally positive reviews. Following several tours that brought them through Europe, North America, Australia and Asia, and saw the release of an accompanying album, lead singer, Amy Boone, was involved in a car accident.

Following Boone’s recovery, the band announced the release of their second studio album, “The Imperial.” The album was released January 11, 2019, and it is truly worth a listen.

In the first song on the album, “Cheer up Charlie”, the general tone of the album and sound of the band for new listeners immediately becomes evident. There is a certain vocal style that Boone sings with that is both very level and also extremely emotional. It is evocative of the feeling of struggling and striving for an American dream while constantly wondering if it may be out of reach.

The bluesy melody of the guitars and keyboard is perfectly complimented by well-timed horns interjecting — a theme that holds throughout the album.

While the first songs of the album have more lively beats, the first song that begins to audibly reveal the slower, much more blues heavy direction that the album travels as it progresses is the third track, “Where Are You Sonny?” The song begins with Boone singing almost completely unaccompanied before the drums pick up.

Because Boone’s voice is almost all there is to hear at the beginning of the song, it is a great opportunity to really listen to and appreciate the sound she is able to produce and the feelings she is able to evoke with little beyond her voice.

The only single off of the album, “Eddie and Polly” follows a string of slower songs with a slightly sped up tempo and more instrumentally heavy backing. Although the song seems to be a little faster and more upbeat than those preceding it, the song continues to address similar issues with the same gloomy outlook.

Following “Eddie and Polly” the songs again start to slow down and generally sound more depressing. “That Old Haunted Place” is a dynamic song that almost serves as a microcosm for the rest of the album. In the same way that the album, in its entirety has a sort of rise and fall impressed by the varying tempos of the songs, “That Old Haunted Place” starts slowly and builds to an urgent crescendo peaking in the middle of the song.

However, before reaching what feels like should be the height, the tune and Boone’s vocals drop off again. The whole experience almost screams the disappointment and hardship that the entire album is written about.

The penultimate track, “He Don’t Burn for Me” serves as a final hurrah of the album with the chorus including backing vocals from several other band members. The song also alludes to some of the sounds of the early tracks such as the horns.

Ultimately, “The Imperial” is a beautiful, haunting album that dives into the deep end of difficult problems including drug addiction — and having loved ones suffering from drug addiction — crippling, seemingly unending debt, and relationship struggles, among others. Boone’s voice almost seems tailor made for such a project, and the accompanying music is simple yet so compelling.

Although the year has just begun, “The Imperial” is one of the best albums to come out of 2019.