On This is Steve, his third LP as Delicate Steve, New Jersey guitarist Steve Marion forgoes the hyper-melodic, blockbuster riffs of earlier songs like “Butterfly” and “The Ballad of Speck and Pebble” in favor of more nuanced arrangements. It’s not too surprising—he began hinting at this approach as far back as 2012’s Positive Force. And while This is Steve may leave some fans yearning for the immediate gratification of Marion’s gargantuan, shrieking guitar work, the payoff here is much greater.
Marion rarely sings on his records; instead, he uses a wide range of tones and effects to turn his electric guitar—often played with a slide—into a voice of its own. On past albums, Marion used drums, keyboards and other guitars to create a neutral backdrop for his soaring riffs. On This is Steve, those other instruments move to the forefront, melding seamlessly with Marion’s guitar on tracks like “Tomorrow” and “Swimming” for a sturdier, more balanced sound. On the album’s second side in particular, sweet, humid piano figures provide a smart and gentle counterpoint to Marion’s quivering notes.
Which is not to say that This is Steve is a sleepy affair. Opening track “Animals” channels the psych-y swirl of past tour mates Tame Impala, and the blasting “Cartoon Rock,” true to its name, is an unabashed roller-coaster of crunching riffs that bears a delightful resemblance to Deerhoof’s recent The Magic. Generally less giddy than its predecessors, This is Steve catches a spectacular—and highly underrated—craftsman discovering that sometimes mellowing out, if only a little bit, can be the best way to create suspense.
—Max Savage Levenson