The Delgados

The Complete BBC Peel Sessions

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The Delgados' Complete BBC Peel Sessions is a fascinating look at one of the more easy to underrate indie rock bands of the late '90s/early 2000s -- easy because everything they did was so consistently good. There was never a shocking development to force uninitiated listeners to sit up and take notice, and never a defining moment -- just the kind of steady near-brilliance that is often overshadowed by blinding flashes of hype. Beginning with a 1995 Scottish radio session that John Peel heard and rebroadcast on his show, the disc shows the growth and development of the Delgados as their career continued. On their first two sessions (from 1995 and 1996), they were a jagged, jangling, high-energy indie rock group with strong hooks -- sort of like a Technicolor Wedding Present. If they had kept up in this direction, they may have made a couple of interesting albums and then faded, but as 1997's session shows, they began to add extra instrumentation and experiment with new sounds and textures. Tracks like "Pull the Wires from the Walls" and "The Arcane Model" are just as exciting and raw as their earlier songs, just with a lighter and more theatrical touch. Though their 1998 session steps away from the orchestration of the previous session, it makes use of dramatic dynamics, and songs like the aching "Don't Stop" give an inkling of the heights the band was getting set to reach. The 2000 session showcases the incredibly dramatic, orchestrated, and powerful sound the band developed at the time of The Great Eastern. Songs like "No Danger," "Make Your Move," and "Aye Today" are fabulous on record, and their slightly stripped-down and more intimate versions from the session are just as wonderful. They also represented the band at its peak, and further sessions begin to show the band settling into a less ambitious, if still quite impressive, sound. In fact, instead of promoting its current record, Hate, in 2002, the group decided on four covers of other people's songs that provide both a hint at the band's sense of humor and ability to craft heart-stoppingly beautiful tunes out of any source material. Their deadly earnest take on the Dead Kennedys' "California Über Alles" is quite hilarious, and their version of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" magically transforms a charming bit of candy floss into an innocent, achingly sweet, and strangely transcendent love song thanks to Emma Pollack's angelic vocals and the lush arrangement. By 2004's session, the Delgados sound remarkably confident and the songs (taken from Universal Audio) are among their best to date. The band forgoes outside instrumentation and ornate arrangements in favor of a direct approach that may shrink the scale of the sound but doesn't skimp on drama and emotion. It shows the band was still at the top of the game after ten years, an amazing feat for a pop band. The compilation is a fitting cap to the Delgados' always interesting, often brilliant career as well as a tribute to the ears of John Peel. Both will be greatly missed.

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