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EP Review: DELS – Black Salad

I first came across DELS (Kieren Dickins) when listening to the Queens Of Noize‘s now defunct 6Music radio show – something that tuned into religiously, to feed all my indie, up’n'coming music hunger. And, in this particular case, something to recommend me a bit of the UK underground scene I secretly craved for (none of my all girls’ school mates in the heart of the suburban Hampshire-Surrey border were that into bass music, unfortunately; plus, I didn’t exactly look or sound like someone who’d have been into early Roll Deep, listened to Channel U, etc. – both self-accusations to which I am guilty).

Enough with my general fascination with UK urban genres, and back to DELS. The MC has worked – and continues to work – with Joe Goddard, Micachu, and Kwes. – all of whom have been big players in the production world over the past few years. So no wonder he drew the attention of, primarily, the late John Peel – who heard Dickins and his crew rapping one time in his hometown of Ipswich and invited him on’t radio.

DELS’ latest offering, Black Salad, retains all the base ingredients he’s given us in previous releases – from his bluntly booming words (Speech Debelle tweeted that he has “the best voice in UK music”), to bass beats, hints of deep house, and constant chopped’n'screwed-stylee electronic production.

Case One is opener and title track, produced by Kwes. and Eli-T; “Black salad, black salad / Repetition, repetition / Black salad, black salad / Oh, I’m feeling like something’s missing,” sings the vocal refrain through hardly-pronounced consonants and over deep bass beats and ambiguous synth waves, with a micro-vocal loop commencing the conclusion.

But it’s with second track ‘Bird Milk’ where the EP gets into gear, showing off both Kwes.’ production and DELS’ lyrical prowess. Dickins tells his listener, over almost mechanical beats, “I’ve been lynched, chopped up, fed to the fishes, my brain’s been eaten by my missus.” He adds, “Blood tears stream down my face, these dark dreams keep me awake [...] Some say I’m anxious, I just think I need to eat cheese less”. And with the added vocal of BILA, the dialogue between useless boyfriend and naggy girlfriend is complete. It’s the lyrics that take centre stage here; Kwes. does a fabulous job in making the accompaniment interesting enough but also repetitive enough to keep the momentum going whilst pushing the vocals into the spotlight. The final 1:30 of the track is left for the fallout of the narrative, for the audience to reflect on the lyrics whilst listening to Kwes.’ own sonic take on the story, leading off into ‘Not Today’ with siren samples and muffled girl talk.

Raisa Khan‘s nostalgically nodding production of off-beat, synthesised fairground organ notes take a different route to what Kwes. was travelling in ‘Bird Milk‘. The key part divides at times into many that skip around DELS’ vocal, anchored down with ground-buzzing bass. It transports you to Summer, quite content in London Fields until some drunken twat comes to annoy you; “Not today, you won’t wipe the smile off my face,” Dickins mutters, finally.

Coby Sey (Kwes.’ brother) takes over in ‘Sell By Date’, reverts back to his sibling’s erratic instrumentals, and makes way for the hushed deep house tones imagined by James Spankie for final track ‘You Live In My Head’. “Projections, dreams, crystalise things, we brush it off ’cause it ain’t what it seems,” it goes, before metallic glockenspiel patterns echo his speech. Bit of a downer for the closing song, but a very pretty one at that.

What’s apparent here is that the very talented DELS, collaborating with his very talented producer mates, makes a fucking good EP. Not only does he give the producers enough space to interpret his rhymes how they want, resulting in a relieving amount of variation – but his lyrical narrative draws the whole thing together into a whole. Record labels should listen to this and take note, because whilst having a collection of tracks that isn’t produced by The Invisible Men or Guetta may not make it into the mundane mainstream, this is a cut above that – its life expectancy is longer. Black Salad is premium, British, independent music at its best.

-Bronya Francis


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