Review Summary: but i guess you'll always have your way“Maybe I don’t really miss being 16.”
I doubt many people do, but the significance of this line changes when you realize Dltzk, (pronounced “Delete Zeke”) a precocious producer/songwriter from New Jersey, is singing it at 17 or 18. One’s late teens are a particularly weird age. You’re feeling all sorts of complex feelings, often for the first time, and you’re also beginning to develop the language and ability to actually articulate them. But simultaneously, you’re also frustrated at the fact that you don’t fully understand where the feelings are coming from yet (pro tip, it takes a lot of work, and even then you often won’t). Put more precisely, it’s a time where the leap from 16 to 17 is actually meaningful, but not nearly as meaningful as you think it is.
Dltzk’s first album (they put out a project helpfully named Teen Week
earlier in the year, but retconned it to EP status following this record’s release), Frailty
, is impressive for two seemingly contrary reasons. First, it’s as emotionally honest a reflection of this time in one’s life as I’ve ever heard on record, and second, Zeke displays virtuosic capabilities as an experimentally-leaning pop musician that are obviously beyond their years. The combination makes for a listen that's always compelling and often inspiring.
The straightforward lo-fi acoustic guitar strums on Frailty’
s opening salvo “goldfish” give way to the crunchy pop-punk of “your clothes”, a song that, intentionally or not, synthesizes a ton of the music I’ve been interested in over the course of the last 15 years. It recalls the more synthy side of the late 2000s Warped Tour spectrum that girls I had a crush on in middle school listened to, fourth and fifth wave emo, the soaring bedroom-pop-cum-shoegaze of bands like The 1975 and M83 (dltzk is an avowed fan of Porter Robinson, whose early work sounds a lot like a more Tomorrowland leaning version of the latter), and the more accessible stuff from hyperpop contemporaries like Glaive and 100 Gecs. It’s anthemic and slightly nostalgic, but still feels wholly original—a remarkable achievement.
cruises more-than-satisfyingly on this wavelength over the course of its first six tracks, although that perhaps gives short shrift to the highlights strewn throughout, namely the massive electric guitar progression that emerges at the end of “search party”. But it’s on the masterful four song stretch that anchors the record (“movies for guys” through “how to lie”) that dltzk shows their true sonic range. These songs are constantly shifting— but not necessarily in the hyper-referential style that’s come to be associated with hyperpop or its more emo-leaning offshoot digicore, a genre in which dltzk is usually categorized. There’s something more psychic in how their component parts come together. “Movies” seamlessly moves from sleek synthpop to glitchy post-Flume electronica into thrashing screamo such that that when the song finally resolves itself in a late 2010s radio ready emo-rap hook, the only rational thought is “well, of course they can do that too”. Following that, these songs pick up the habit of expertly taking themselves apart in spurts of cathartic electronic noise, then putting themselves back together just as quickly. There’s a sharp intake of breath before a particularly affecting moment on “how to lie”, giving it the overall effect of a frustrated scream. “Kodak moment” balances one of these outbursts out with an outro that sounds like it should be playing over video game credits. It’s refreshing and quite lovely.
There are some who will be turned off by what they perceive as adolescent lyrics, as well as Zeke’s vocal style, which, while technically sound, very much highlights the juvenility (and I don’t say that as a pejorative as much as the literal definition of “being teenaged”) of their words. But crucially, there is no sense that dltzk is doing any posturing here. These songs do a great job of foregrounding the inherent insecurity of their age— when an adult future is a looming tidal wave that you can’t figure out if you can’t wait for or are dreading, and an offhanded remark by the right person (“this movie’s just for guys”) can bring your whole world crashing down. Moreover, Zeke has stated in interviews that the frequent references to a “you” in these songs are addressed to a variety of forms: crushes and friends, as well as selves past, present, and future. This mishmash of subjects adds an engrossing obliqueness behind their surface-level emotional bent that’s reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s Blonde
(surely a spiritual forebear in terms of overall scope, despite the fact that they’re working in two slightly different realms).
If I sound bowled over, it’s because I am. Over the years, I’ve listened to all manner of supposed youthful bedroom epics, from those I’ve been completely unmoved by (Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy
, don’t @ me) to those I’ve appreciated from afar without truly seeing myself in (Parannoul’s To See The Next Part of the Dream
, an album I see as an older cousin to this). These albums are almost certain to inspire a dedicated group of acolytes, as well as a group who won’t understand what the *** those acolytes are on about. Count me proudly in the former here.