Warning: Contains Multitudes
“I am a human/I am an animal/I am primal/And refined by time.” So sings Robert DeLong on “Complex by Degree,” appropriate words in an even more appropriately titled track from his debut album, Just Movement. His brand of handcrafted electronica is impressively, impossibly packed with improvements on existing themes and a sense of precariously unedited sincerity.
After years spent bumping around in failed pop-punk bands, DeLong decamped to an L.A. workshop of synthesizers, drums and re-purposed game controllers. The results—good enough for Glassnote Records founder Daniel Glass to take a flier on him—weave a plaintive songwriting mentality around and through a wide range of rhythmic musics.
Just Movement contains moments where DeLong purposefully, artfully sabotages convention, sacrificing single-worthiness for better (read: complex) songcraft. “Happy” starts off like a whistling Top 40 track before making references to sun gods and dropping muted drum interludes where choral climaxes should be. “A Few Years Make” is a wistful narrative with whirlwind beats and live guitar that just happens to be in waltz time.
Above all else, though, is this sense of the listener encountering DeLong’s ideas much as one might attempt to drink from a firehose. More of a hip-grinder than a club anthem, “Global Concepts” encapsulates how the album treads a dangerous line, managing to come down more on the side of wildly creative than ADHD-skittish. In four-plus minutes we hear tech-aware lyrics à la Imogen Heap, a reggae-syncopated breakdown, live bongos and a pinch of aggression in dubstep breaks—and the chorus query, “Did I leave my life to chance/Or did I make you fucking dance?”
He doesn’t always avoid MDMA-addled nonsense. “Religious Views” is a throwaway club banger, its single lyric seemingly throwing shade on faith. “Survival of the Fittest,” meanwhile, is a hammy rant on social ills, like listening to remixes of the entire R.E.M. catalog all at once.
But we also experience the earnest “Here,” expressing regret at trying to make a one-night stand into something more (“I sent you lilies, now I want back those flowers/What could we really have known from 19 hours?”), as well as “Change” and “Perfect,” polished missives from the Oakenfold school of dancefloor populism. So plays Robert DeLong on Just Movement, an album that’s complex by degrees. His work is now primal. Who knows how it will transform, refined by time?