Twelve songs. Twenty-five minutes and 10 seconds.
Oblique Seasons from Minneapolis post-punks Deleter is a jet-fuel Molotov cocktail cased in a prop bottle. With an average length of just 2:05 minutes per song, it’s lit and extinguished before the sugar glass melts.
Calling the album "ephemeral" makes it sound too mystical. "Sharp" makes it sound too clean. Oblique Seasons is a gritty – sometimes ugly – piece of societal anathema. If you live with Oblique Seasons longer than the runtime allows, you might just compromise your Midwestern geniality.
That being said, it's far from the most venomous album Deleter has ever made.
"I’ve been trying to be less cynical, but it’s hard," says guitarist/singer Knol Tate. "It’s important to question everything, but not to be necessarily conspiratorial and think everyone’s out to get you."
Though cynicism is a learned behavior, Tate's bandmates Travis Collins (bass), Josh McKay (drums), and Jordan Morantez (guitar/synths) suspect that the 2014 Best Songwriter winner is one of the few who were born a cynic. He's been an outspoken contrarian in the Minneapolis music scene for nearly two decades, and Deleter is only the latest vehicle for his discontent
It's been 15 years since he claimed he'd never write another song about hate, but on Oblique Seasons (out yesterday on Land Ski Records and on vinyl via 25 Diamonds), Tate isn't just dispensing stray anger.
"I’m old and annoyed," he says with a mirthful laugh. "When you get older, you do get out of the anger for anger’s sake, and you use anger as an energy and an intelligent way of fighting against something."
Songs like "A Ridiculous Man" and "Lab Rat Revolution" seeth with ambiguous fury, but there's a greater substance behind the lyrics that Tate leaves for listeners are left to suss out.
"Sometimes saying something extremely straightforward is incredible and awesome," he says. "But I like to be able to read something into it instead of having people be like, 'OK, I know exactly what this motherfucker is talking about.'"
On first pass, "The Worst Person in the World" reads like the kind of generic angry social criticism that typifies punk rock.
"It’s probably a caricature," Tate admits. "That phrase 'worst person in the world' has been in the lexicon a lot lately. 'Oh, they’re the worst, that’s just the worst, everything’s the worst.'"
However, after sitting with the extended lyrics (which are presented in the album's leaf alongside artwork by Meghan Irwin), a more personal meaning emerges.
"I wrote that after having a fight with an ex," Tate explains. "I wrote it and left it for her to see. She was like, 'Is that about me?' And I was like, 'No, but you caused it.'"
Elsewhere on the record, Tate aims his vitriol at the body politic. "Macy Shot a Cop," Oblique Season's most baiting cut, tells a two-sided story of a woman who kills a police officer and the community's response. Of course, the song, which borrows its chorus from the title is a dystopian Philip K. Dick story, is a reaction to the highly publicized rash of officer-perpetuated murders in the United States, but it's not as straightforward as yelling "Black Lives Matter!" in the chorus of a punk song.
"The song isn’t saying it's OK to kill cops," says Tate, who's had a disdain for the police since being assaulted by an officer for skateboarding at age 12. "It’s just saying that cops are killing people, and it’s a really disgusting, vile form of control and enforcing laws."
It sounds complicated, but in sonic form, Deleter's songs are almost mechanically straightforward. With nary a solo or a bridge in the tracklist, Oblique Seasons is a tutorial in purposeful efficiency. The band's members are habitual editors, leaving spare parts on the cutting room floor in an effort to skinny up their songs for optimum impact.
"Nothing’s too precious," McKay says. "That’s how it’s been since day one. Nobody takes it personally if an idea doesn’t hit everybody." For the band, it's all about bottling the chaos of the moment. "It’s like a pure thought," McKay continues. "It feels more like an immediate reaction to whatever we’re feeling. It’s like 'Here's the pure burst of energy, and there’s no need to think about it too much.'"
That's the same methodology Tate — a locally renowned engineer who's worked with Murder Shoes, Naive Sense, and Crash Bandits in addition to his own bands — takes when he's in the editing chair.
"I don’t want to over-tweak it," he says. "The first thought is usually the best. Most of our songs are first or second takes."
"It’s punk rock," McKay adds. "Get to the point and get out."
With such incredibly slim song structures and dense, aphoristic lyrics, Deleter are nearly unstable. It's poetry printed on flash paper. Songs like album openers "Dysphoria (Dictionary Definition" and "Seclusion" manage the balance a menacing echo of guitar and Tate's acerbic bark, but there is always the sense that the dynamic might buckle and the whole damn thing will erupt into a fireball. With a wick so short, you'd think Deleter were putting a lot into maintaining the balance.
The opposite is true. The editing process that's kept Deleter's miniscule song lengths from incinerating their lyrical clout wasn't scientific. There was no contingency plan; it was impulsive and uncareful. Oblique Seasons is a bucket of combustibles that just so happened to stay below the flashpoint, and that's exactly why it's such an effective body of music.
"We’re just cutting," Tate says. "Music’s so much bullshit already, so we just cut it down to the smallest amount it can be while still saying what we’re trying to say."