It's easy to imagine Robert DeLong working furiously into the night at the cramped production space inside the garage attached to his house in Mt. Washington. He's got a savant quality to him, and talks quickly and decisively with the matter of fact authority of someone who just always knew they were going to be successful making music.
Today at this coffee shop in Culver City, DeLong is deep into the roll out surrounding the release of debut album Just Movement. The hype machine has been busy creating a full on artist-we-believe-in media onslaught for the LP, which is out today via renowned indie label Glassnote. (The label's current roster includes Phoenix, Mumford and Sons, Childish Gambino and The Temper Trap). DeLong has been given the MTV Artist to Watch label and snagged a slot on this year's Coachella lineup. The buzz-ey anticipation surrounding DeLong is culled from both savvy management and the quality of the album itself. There is the sense that he might really be an artist who matters.
The 26-year-old Seattle native moved to L.A. when he was 18, studying drums at Azusa Pacific University and playing in various groups around town after that while also working on his own material. DeLong didn't anticipate becoming a solo artist, but says it was logistically easier to not have to coordinate schedules or interface with bandmates. And this way, he could work as late as he wanted to.
A musician since childhood, DeLong started on percussion via his drummer father and taught himself how to play piano and guitar along the way. He's always been a singer. In high school, DeLong played in pop punk bands, (“we weren't any good”), and after college he taught drum lessons while gaining inspiration via the underground electronic scene he found at parties by Incognito and local techno label Droid Behavior.
“I had always been into more atmospheric and glitch electronic music like Boards of Canada,” he says, “but when I started going to electronic festivals everything kind of came together. I'm a product of the times as much as anybody.”
DeLong subsequently gave much of his old material an electronic treatment while continuing to write new music. “I was already kind of a computer nerd and into electronics and gadgets and stuff,” he says, “and it became what it is.” Dozens of songs were narrowed down to the twelve on the album. A 2012 residency at Los Globos caught the attention of Glassnote label founder Daniel Glass. After that, DeLong says with a laugh, it was all “just lawyers.”
Live, DeLong is a force, whipping up an ever more ecstatic dance party from layers of vocal loops and instrumentation including drums, dials, a Wii Remote and a Sega Genesis controller. The setup looks a bit like the cluttered control board to the spaceship in Flight of the Navigator, and from it DeLong delivers with sweaty intensity.
Thematically, Just Movement is an homage to quarter-life maturity outfitted with a catchy pop sensibility. Like a Conor Oberst for the EDM generation, DeLong sings earnestly of aging, love, God, the meaning of life and other such global concepts. (“Global Concepts” also being the name of one of the album's best songs). The title track serves as a sort of the thesis statement for DeLong's notion that ultimately, the only true thing is that there is stuff moving around the universe – just movement. Of course this also serves as a tidy double entendre for the club joy his music inspires.
It's self-reflection masquerading as a dance party, and in emphasizing the necessity of both, Just Movement is perhaps also a mark of maturity for the electronic youth movement. In “Few Years Make” DeLong sings rapid-fire of death, fucking up romances, past friendships and resonant childhood memories. While other lyrics touch on an inability to truly feel his emotions, there is most definitely a ghost in this machine.
“Once you have something you want the next thing,” DeLong says on the eve of the album release, “and that's what keeps you moving, and that's progress, but that song is kind of reflecting on the sadness of all that too.”
Robert DeLong plays tonight at Amoeba Music.