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Nick Dleffs

Nick Delffs is not a protest singer. He’s not a gospel singer. Still, subversiveness and spirituality permeate Transitional Phase, his long-awaited second solo album. The product of five years of musical and personal growth that coincided with widespread social upheaval and a global pandemic – just as Delffs navigated first-time fatherhood, losing friends, and approaching his 40s; all weaved these songs.

Now Boise-based, Nick Delffs has been a beloved staple of Pacific Northwest music since emerging with his Portland-based band The Shaky Hands in the mid-2000s. It was clear then, as it is now, that he possessed an authentic—maybe ancient—voice. Transitional Phase is some of his finest and most vulnerable work. As the title suggests, it’s an album about opening oneself up to change, refusing the calcification that comes with age, and opting for wholesale transformation instead.

Incidentally, “Transformation” is the title of the album’s opening track. It’s a looping, percussive opener, a dub-inflected signal that Transitional Phase’s themes of change and transfiguration will not be limited to its lyrics. Like much of the new album, it was recorded in early 2020 at co-producer/collaborator Eli Moore’s spacious and strange stripmall studio on Whidbey Island, just outside of Seattle. However, when the sessions were interrupted by the onset of the pandemic, Delffs was forced to continue work back in Boise. He wrote constantly in the early days of the lockdown and entered a secluded vocal booth in his friend Z.V. House’s Boise studio. Delffs would send the resulting tracks to Moore, who often took songs in unexpected new directions. “Eli added a lot,” Delffs says. “He really put himself in it. I’m not sure I’d felt that level of deep collaboration and trust since the Shaky Hands days.” This process continued until Delffs had about three albums worth of material to sort through.

When writing, Delffs spends as much time as possible not listening to music. “That’s really helpful for me,” he says, “because then it becomes this thing where I need music, I need songs—so I have to make them.” Delffs spent as much time thinking about cows—yes, cows, like the John Gnorski-illustrated one on the album’s cover—in the recording process as he did about any particular musical inspirations. Delffs’ recent trip to India, his second, was filled with cow admiration, and he picked up some cow fun-facts along the way. “They just eat grass and somehow milk is created,” he marvels. “Their poo and pee is antiseptic and medicinal!”

Still, the memory of music sneaks into the process, as Delffs found himself thinking about Tom Petty and Talking Heads, two artists he loved in childhood. One can hear echoes of David Byrne on the angular “Power and Position”, which also serves as a spotlight for the unmistakable accompanying vocals from LAKE’s Ashley Eriksson, whose voice has been heard by millions in Cartoon Networks ‘Adventure Time’ credit music. Delffs enlisted more old friends to help flesh out Transitional Phase, including drums from Joe Plummer (The Shins, Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids), Dan Galucki (Wooden Indian Burial Ground) and Graeme Gibson (Michael Nau, Fruit Bats); keys from Luke Wyland (Au, Methods Body); strings and arrangements from composer Peter Broederick (Sharon Van Etten, M. Ward); and bass by Mayhaw Hoons, his old bandmate in The Shaky Hands.

The lush “Brave New World” looks outward, juxtaposing a smooth groove from Galucki and Hoons with heavy themes of social upheaval. The titular phrase, often used ironically, is presented here with utter earnestness, underscored by Broderick’s beautiful string arrangement. It’s one of three songs on Transitional Phase—along with back-to-back closers “A Perfect Storm” and “Egomaniacs”—that slowly transforms into a prayer. The chanted and sung lines might feel like nods to some of Nick’s favorite artists (including Alice Coltrane, George Harrison, Yamuna Devi), but they arrive on the album naturally. Delffs has long been fascinated with Hinduism, and was deeply inspired by his India trip. “Meditating and chanting are such constant parts of my life these days,” Delffs shares. “They came into this album like any other naturally flowing thought.”

 “Transitional Phase”, the towering title track at the album’s center, is a perfect marriage of two aesthetics. Delffs brings his vulnerable, misty-eyed self-examination to the collaboration; while Moore and Eriksson bring LAKE’s exacting, literate DIY Yacht funk. The result is transcendently, sonically free, like those particularly melodic moments spent with Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush. “In-between words and dreams, there’s only a line,” Delffs sings in seeming self-interrogation, “And you’ve crossed over it so many times.”

The songs on Transitional Phase don’t just cross that line, they dance on it. If the distance between waking life and dreams was narrow on Delffs’ 2017 solo debut Redesign, it is almost imperceptible here. He sings (and speaks, and occasionally chants) about the changing tides of our shared troubled world and all the mysterious worlds within. He yearns and searches and remembers, and occasionally wishes he could forget. He finds faith and loses it. And when he can’t find that faith again, he admits on “Absence of Love Song” that he’ll wait “on and on and on and on for another chance.” Maybe that’s foolish. Or, as Delffs sings, “Maybe it’s today.”

Nick Delffs’ Transitional Phase is due out July 26th on Mama Bird Recording Co.

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Jeffrey Silverstein

Jeffrey Silverstein returns in 2023 with his second full-length release: Western Sky Music. Based in Portland, Silverstein channels the natural beauty of his adopted Pacific Northwest into guitar-driven explorations of inner landscapes.
Silverstein is joined by Barry Walker Jr. on steel (North Americans + Rose City Band), Dana Buoy (Akron/Family) on drums, as well as guest appearances from William Tyler and Karima Walker.
Robert Earl Thomas from Widowspeak shared a quick note on the album:
‘I’ve really been enjoying Western Sky Music, especially ‘No Rain’ and ‘(Theme From) Western Sky Music.’ The back to back pairing of earthy slow core and blissed out tremolo meditations takes me to such a warm place. It’s a great Sunday record’
“Cosmic country with a gentle sweetness, reminiscent of Beachwood Sparks and Silver Jews at their twangiest” – NPR Music