The first song on Diatom Deli‘s 2017 album TQM, “Sky Burial,” is surprisingly frantic and animated for what we typically might expect from a singer/songwriter playing solo acoustic guitar. A flurry of plucked strings whooshes and loops around in quick succession, dynamic and hypnotic, as the Taos, New Mexico artist’s voice moves in and out of a wash of effects, her presence less like that of a storyteller than a vivid watercolor landscape. You wouldn’t expect to hear this in a coffeehouse; you’d be more likely to experience it as hallucination.
Diatom Deli writes what might be considered conventional pop songs at their core, but it’s the method in which they’re arranged that makes them distinctive and wholly her own creation. Delisa Paloma-Sisk—Tennessee born and Puerto Rican by blood—is both troubadour and collagist, opening the record with the sound of a family member’s voice mail, and often finds her gentle folk ballads aided by the contributions of collaborators Michael Hix, credited with synthesizers and “connective magic,” and engineer/soundscapist Bryan Talbot. It’s also sometimes wrapped in less overtly musical field recordings of birdsong or crashing thunder. She calls it the “background noise in everyday life,” the presence of which makes her music feel both organic and somehow mystical, in harmony with the rhythm of the natural world and transcendent at once.
The various odds and ends that surround the melodies at the core of a Diatom Deli song are only enhancements, however; if the songs weren’t themselves memorable, this might be a moot point. The eight songs on Time˜Lapse Nature are at a baseline soothing, typically beautiful, and sometimes even breathtaking, as on the skipping waltz of “False Alarm,” or the gentle, dreamy layers of “Sonrisa.” At her best, Diatom Deli often finds an unseen middle ground between meditative calm and emotional breakthrough—though ambiance is a crucial element to the music she makes, nothing here ever threatens to fade into the background.
The album’s best song, “Waves Will See (Your Smiling Face)”, feels so much bigger in context than much of the album, though its arrangement only varies slightly from what comes before. Paloma-Sisk’s guitar is arresting in its repetition of arpeggios, and the juxtaposition of synth drones and crashing waves gives it a sense of volume and mass that’s not merely interesting but powerful. It’s those twin elements of the organic and the mystical coming together in perfect harmony, a kind of songwriting prowess that comes from the skill of a craftsman but feels like a kind of magic.
Label: RVNG Intl.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.