[ORGANIC ELECTRO] When we last checked in with Portland duo Deelay Ceelay, Chris Lael Larson and Delaney Kelly had placed third in WW’s 2010 Best New Band poll and hit the road on a national tour with Starfucker. Shortly afterward, Deelay Ceelay disappeared.
“During that 10 months it was hard to turn down good shows,” Larson says. “And part of me thought, ‘How many will we turn down before people stop asking?’ Whether we verbalized it or not, it was a concern: Is 10 months enough time for a local band to be forgotten?” It’s a reasonable question: Portland music moves fast, and the two-drummer electro outfit—with only a four-song EP to its name until this week’s release of debut full-length Sunset Drumsets—moves awfully slowly.
There are a host of reasons for the band’s molasses-style release schedule (day jobs, studio indecision, life), but the real culprit is that Deelay Ceelay isn’t a band at all. In concert, it’s a very sophisticated A/V experiment, and Larson’s elaborate video projections—with their hand-shot, acid-trip fractal explosions, organic patterns and DayGlo dancers—take time to produce. “I used to spend up to three months on them,” says Larson, who is responsible for those video duties. He has since learned to expedite the process by removing narrative from the videos and enlisting the help of local dancers. Still, it’s a process: “It changes every time. The same way I wouldn’t want us to write the same song twice, I try not to recycle any visual devices, which is hard.”
After seeing the inspiring, energetic live show, any Deelay Ceelay recording feels a touch incomplete. But Sunset Drumsets, like its title, is an effort strong and cinematic enough to stand on its own. Songs like the punchy, robotic “Little Whispers” and the squealing “Slow Rain”—both uplifting and elastic tunes that add a hint of post-rock drama to Starfucker-style live electronica—seem to contain wordless narrative arcs all their own. The album is a moody, complete work from a wholly DIY band still seeking its comfort level with collaborators and deciding where to go from here (it enlisted mastering help from busy Portlander Jeff Stuart Saltzman, which contributed to the band’s long hiatus).
The arc of many recent Portland electronic projects—from Guidance Counselor to YACHT—has been their steady expansion from minimalist laptop projects to full-on bands, and that’s something Deelay Ceelay hasn’t ruled out. “I’m certainly open to it, but we can barely get the two of us organized to practice,” says Larson. “And I am also tied up in the symmetry we have onstage—if we get one bass player, we kind of have to get two bass players. Which is completely absurd.”
If it isn’t broke, Deelay Ceelay probably shouldn’t fix its approach to live music. While some showgoers are uncomfortable with the majority of the duo’s sound coming from pre-recorded tracks, the simplicity of the arrangement and constant onstage movement are still what makes the band tick. Besides, we wouldn’t want to lose Deelay Ceelay again. “The last few months have been excruciating,” Larson says, adding that the band ignored label interest in order to get its new album out as quickly as possible. “In order to be a living, evolving thing, we have to be playing.” CASEY JARMAN.
SEE IT: Deelay Ceelay plays Saturday, Aug. 6, at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $5, includes a copy of the new album. 21+.