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Opal Onyx
Delta Sands Matthew Foster , September 20th, 2014 08:48

Ah, to make a work of art, that's the thing, isn't it? Most of us writing about music are withered little creatures, arty but, as the saying goes, artless. We love this stuff very much, but ask us how it all comes together and we'll pray for a bus to plough into our bedsits. We can't really do anything much, just chuck a couple of Pseuds Corner sentences together and hope we manage to convey that awe we feel when something fully-formed falls from the heavens and into our laps. Like this one. 

Opal Onyx's Delta Sands is one of those debut records that convinces you the people behind it have had a secret, multi-decade career they've just not told anyone about. Nobody should be able to start off this sure of themselves; it's just not fair on the rest of us. I'm 64 and I can't even peel an orange without killing all of my loved ones, for Christ's sake.  But a debut it most certainly is, apparently a joint effort by Brooklyn's Sarah Nowicki, Matthew Robinson and the Devil. And my, they have some fun here. 

On 'Evaun', Nowicki comes across like a frenetic preacher who can conjure thunder with a word. A chunker of a bassline props up the lectern, as ambient sounds burble, fizz and whine themselves into a proper cacophony. If the floor collapsed at a Goat gig and took out half the band (always possible), it might sound something like this. 'Iron Age' gets a little Kranky, a distorted and eerily distant Nowicki echoing off the walls of some vast cavern. But where the likes of Grouper would do you in through repetition, Nowicki suddenly peels off in her own direction with an almighty wail. An increasingly unrecognisable guitar strum is toyed with until it's basically percussive. 'The Devil' is a pleasant, Hope Sandoval-tinged march when it opens, but soon morphs into the deformed, slobbering daughter of 'I Remember Nothing' or 'The Overload'. It features drums that sound like condemned men dragging chains through the street. Briefly, Harvey and Tabitha look up from their Foxton's brochure and wonder if this is really the Quayside Quarter for them.

From the moment the deathly waltz of 'Crimson And Black' announces itself with the sound of an artificial heartbeat, to the title track's final choral sigh that pulls you into the swamp with it, 'Delta Sands', then, is a detailed, dense, and dramatic record. But it's never a bombastic dullard, showing you all his fancy effects pedals but strangely coy about actually getting up on stage and playing something. Opal Onyx manage to tie the whole disparate thing together because there are proper songs under the squall. It's noise with a purpose. And anyhow, the sparse but breathtaking 'Arrow's Wing' proves Opal Onyx can just as easily play it straight if they want to. When 'Personal' hurls pretty, accessible, steel-stringed chimes over your head, then uses its final minute to get you in the gut with waves of looped vocals and a straightforwardly beautiful, moaning bit of cello, it's the songcraft you're in awe of, nothing more fancy than that. 

So if I still can't tell you how this music thing actually works, let me give you a sentence you can keep: Opal Onyx will smash your digestive biscuit heart up into cheesecake base with a hammer of noise, then fluff up your pillows up with some really rather outstanding tunes. If only they could help me with this fucking orange.