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Title: ‘Submission’
Where to find it: ‘Acolyte’ (2010, Polydor/Chimeric [UK], Dangerbird [US], Modular [AU])
Performed by: Delphic
Words by: The simple answer is, I don’t know. Trust me, I’ve asked, and rather frustratingly, the band keep a tight lid on who’s written what (so god only knows which member has written which songs, or even if there is one principal Delphic lyricist). When pressed in September 2010 regarding the identity of this song’s writer, lead guitarist Matt Cocksedge quipped, “magicians should never reveal their secrets, should they?” Given the usual nature of lyrics drawing from personal experience, I’m assuming the lyrics have to do with an actual relationship by the man who wrote it.

Yesterday marked the first release of Manchester band Delphic‘s since their debut album release in 2010. Called ‘Good Life’, it’s one of the five official singles of London 2012 and represents the beginning of the band’s radical departure into a more “popular” kind of sound, incorporating hip hop into urban dance. The sound follows most of Radio1’s usual fare, so I expect it to do well in that young person’s market. You can read more of my reviewer-type thoughts about the single and an interview I did with my friend and Delphic’s lead singer and bassist James Cook here, but today I wanted to take a moment to go back in time and revisit their debut ‘Acolyte’ and more specifically, album track ‘Submission’, because I don’t want people to ever forget this era of Delphic, which I’m quite worried is going to happen as everyone eats up this new urban, highly produced version of them. (At the end of this post, you will find both links to listen to ‘Submission’ and ‘Good Life’, as I think it’s interesting thing to be able to compare them side by side.)

‘Acolyte’ is unique in that nearly all of the album chronicles love in its many emotional forms – missed opportunities to connect in ‘Counterpoint’, wanting a second chance in ‘Red Lights’, abject loneliness in ‘Remain’, just to give three examples – yet the word “love” itself never appears anywhere on the album. This song is, hands down, my favourite on the album, with the reasons to follow below.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Always a new temptation, I am desire
Always in moderation, if it’s a hunger from the heart
Trying to keep it all out of sight and mind, out of sight and mind
Trying to work a reason why
I don’t recognise myself

Verse 2
The less you expect from me, the less you get
Every test you give me, the more I can remedy myself
I can’t keep giving into mistakes I’ve made, the mistakes I’ve made
I can’t keep living life left behind
I don’t recognise myself

Bridge 1
Where are you now?
Where are you now?

Verse 3 (no bass for the first 2 lines)
Always a new temptation, and no one hears me now
Always in moderation, if it’s a hunger from the heart
Trying to keep it all out of sight and mind, out of sight and mind
Trying to work a reason why
I don’t recognize myself

Bridge 2 (twice as long as first) into wailing guitar solo / instrumental outro
Where are you now?
Where are you now?
Where are you now?
Where are you now?
I don’t recognise myself
Right now, right now…

Now, the analysis:

The winter of 2010 was one of Washington DC’s snowiest on record. That February, there wasn’t much to do except listen to music and shovel the rapidly falling snow and often. I did both. To give myself some kind of relative measurement for time, I set my Sansa to play ‘Submission’ on repeat and I would use that calculate how far down the driveway I’d cleared before the song started up again. So I spent a lot of time with ‘Submission’ and have retained the words to the song – and really, all the songs on the album – to this day.

Musically, I’d call this song “severe”: the prevailing sound is the bass, driving the song in a funky, yet almost sinister fashion. (Two years ago, I taped myself playing this very line; you can listen to it here. It’s my bass and nothing else: no pedals, no effects, no nothing.) Layer upon layer of synth lines buzz, klaxons ring out, and the drums continue to thud; they lay into you. There are a hell lot of things going on in this song, and while they all go together, it’s definitely an amalgamation to keep you on your toes. On first listen, it’s a full-on, beguiling, bewitching tune that should ring your bell if you’ve got a thing for synths. (My initial thought? The bass line is pure sex.) But it’s James Cook’s voice, clear as a bell, providing the melody and the song’s navigation.

I remember when the meaning of the song came forward to me, presenting itself like a dream. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, “so that’s what this song is about!” That came about over a year after the snow shoveling episode. I still have the Word doc saved to my home computer, spilling out over three pages of text of how my mind viewed the song. (What you see here is a pared down, clean version.) It came out of me so rapidly and violently that I finished in tears. But it was as if it had come to me so clearly. I suppose you can say I’ve been spared to have never had been through relationships as messy as those detailed on ‘Acolyte’, but still, I identified with it. While I might never felt the pain of having lost someone in the manner of ‘Submission’, the song, including Matt Cocksedge’s guitar solo at the end, makes me the most emotional I ever get over music.

Since this song was written by a man, I tried to view this from a man’s point of view. The title ‘Submission’ from the outset is pretty telling. I see this as a song regretting settling down, leaving the wild life you once knew (and probably the woman that made your heart sing and the one you really wanted) to marry the “nice kind” of woman you were expected to. This rings true in my own life: I am surrounded by friends who have been pressured to do this because “that’s what nice Chinese girls do”; they go off, get married (preferably to someone in the same ethnic background), have children, and don’t talk back. I didn’t go this path and haven’t, because I’ve always insisted I would marry for love and not for appearances, convenience, or for the purpose of procreating. But try telling that to people who believe in centuries’ old wisdom about continuing family lines…

You can only fool yourself so far that the life you’ve been pressured into is what you always wanted, that you’re actually happy with what other people want for you. This man may (or may not) have a wandering eye but “always a new temptation, I am desire” seems to suggest there are plenty of beautiful women around him who stir his senses, but he’s had to keep them “always in moderation, if it’s a hunger from the heart” so that he doesn’t get romantically attached and/or his heart broken. “Trying to keep it all out of sight and mind, out of sight and mind” indicates he’s trying his best not to think about it all. I suspect this is the case because he’s in a relationship that’s discussed in verse 2. Then, singlehandedly, the line “trying to work a reason why / I don’t recognise myself” is the most heart-breaking of the whole song; it’s repeated throughout the song (I’ll go into later) and emphasises he’s not the person he once was. The life he once he knew is so far away now.

Verse 2 examines his current relationship. He’s not trying hard in the relationship anymore (“The less you expect from me, the less you get”) but offers to step up if he’s given the right cues (“Every test you give me, the more I can remedy myself”). I love this line. I tend to sing along to guys’ voices because with my alto voice, it’s easier for me to sing along to guys than to girls. When I happen on this line – particularly the word “remedy” – my voice must ring the same harmonic as Cook’s, as I can hear this weird, spine-tingling harmony at that exact moment. The rest of the verse, touching on “the mistakes I’ve made”, takes on a regretful tone. I also feel guilt; when you’re with one person, you shouldn’t be thinking about someone else. While trying to drown out the past errors of his ways, he’s wondering in the bridges where the other woman in his life is, the one woman who truly had his heart.

If the bass and the bassist (singer James Cook) are supposed to go hand in hand, then the bass taking a break into verse 3 is significant. I view “Always a new temptation, and no one hears me now” indicative of a out of body, maybe a dream state, being outside reality. Even the vocal is sung more softly than the rest of the song. Note also the guitar crash timed to the word “moderation”, serving as a return to reality before the bass comes back in at the end of the line “if it’s a hunger from the heart.” I also sense urgency in Cook’s voice from this point on, like he’s finally come to terms with what is happening, he doesn’t like it, and the emotions are flooding out.

The second bridge is twice as long (to indicate increased pining?) and single notes that are played here live off an Electribe feel unusually touching. Who ever said electronic music wasn’t emotional? And then we come to the end, where “I don’t recognise myself” makes a reappearance, but as a huge, huge, gut-wrenching flourish. Oh gosh. When I play this song and get to this point, wow, I can’t help but feel the hurt inside. (If I’m having a bad day, I’m sad, etc. this is where I let rip a scream, letting my emotions go, as if in sympathy.) This is a man that is in deep emotional turmoil. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the instrumental outro features a guitar solo that is loud, coming in as a huge burst of energy and emotion. And that solo? In a word, brilliant.

I have a conjecture about why this solo is at the end and not in the middle (where guitar solos usually are, as in ‘Halcyon’) but I’m not going to post that until I’ve talked the above over with Delphic to see if I’m even remotely close. There are also some admirable electronic “whooshes” at the end that sound so high-tech, I was and am still in awe in their beauty. It was suggested to me late last year by keyboardist Rick Boardman that this is not how ‘Submission’ was supposed to end up. But I can’t even begin to imagine it sounding any different. To me, this is a perfectly formed song from start to finish.

And it’s such a heartbreaker, because it’s about someone being forced into a situation (“submission”) where love can’t grow. Even as we grow older and wiser, if we’re forced into something that is against our nature and indeed, against the way our heart feels and bleeds, for a time we might be able to swallow our pride and accept it as our lot in life. But eventually, the cracks will show, and something’s gotta give. I think in particular what impressed me the most about this song is that it was written by a man and instead of being the usual “I’m not letting anyone see my feelings!” that I’m used to getting from my male friends, here it all is, spelled out for the world to hear. I write a lot of poetry and inevitably, a lot of it comes out emotional. But rarely do I hear emotional lyrics written by men, let alone those written for electronic music, as in touch with the feelings and cutting as this. The lyrics, taken together with all the layers of instrumentation so lovingly put together, make for one extraordinary achievement.

The band had prepared me when I met them in Denmark 2 years ago that this version of Delphic would be short-lived and of their new material, “it’ll shock some people”. Upon hearing ‘Good Life’, I couldn’t make out all the lyrics, but no matter. It just didn’t give me the same visceral response I had with any of ‘Acolyte’. No chills, no hairs standing on the back of my neck, no deep soul-searching “god, I know how that feels” moments, no “wow, this is so good, this is so honest and emotional, I wish I could make love to it.”

It’ll be some time before we get any other material from Delphic. The follow-up to ‘Acolyte’, still untitled, will be out in early 2013. I suspect I probably won’t like the new album; just last week when I did an informal q&a with James Cook, we talked about ‘Good Life’, and I felt some relief being able to explain myself to him and why I wasn’t feeling the new material. And it was okay, and we’re okay, because he has respect for what I do as a music reviewer, just as I have always respected him as a musician. I will always have the memories of seeing this song performed live, abroad at Roskilde and here in America, and indeed, of seeing them play during this era of their career. 2010, you were beautiful in a way I had never known and will never know again. Good night.

Lastly, the song, from someone else’s HQ rip on YouTube, as no promo video for the song exists. ‘Submission’ was never released as a single, something I’m very glad about, because the song would have required major editing and cutting in order to fit the usual radio station length format. While there are several okay live videos of the song, I figured you should listen to the original Ewan Pearson-produced and best version of the song, especially if this is your first taste of it. And as promised at the beginning of this post, I’ve also embedded the audio of ‘Good Life’ (2012) for the purpose of compare and contrast.

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