Delgres 4:00 AM sounds different. Obviously, there are the mostly non-English lyrics, but beyond that, while the grooves initially give off a familiar Black Keys soul/blues rock vibe, as you listen, you notice Delgres also deploy a unique sound that grabs your ear and makes you stick with the songs, even though, unless you speak Creole, you don't know what they're saying. The beauty of 4:00 AM is that even without understanding the words, you'll connect to the emotions.
Delgres are a Paris-based trio with interesting instrumentation: dobro (from lead singer Pascal Danae), sousaphone (and other horns from Rafgee), and drums from Baptiste Brondy. Keyboards fill in the sonic gaps, creating strong grooves anchored in blues, that also read as pop.
For example, "Sé Mo La," or "These Words," features an off-kilter Brondy beat sweetened with keyboards. Danae's dobro provides texture as Rafgee's sousaphone holds down the low end, with a sound more airy and organic than electric, or even acoustic, bass. Danae's voice, straight-forwardly soulful, sings over and through it all, masked in a slight haze of effects. The track is anthemic, built upon blues sounds and New Orleans-style rhythms, but also something separate from those styles.
Delgres chart a new course through the blues, inspired by their band namesake. That's Louis Delgrès, a resistance leader in Guadeloupe, the French-ruled Caribbean island. Delgrès fought Napolean's reoccupation, which would have meant slavery for the island's citizens. Delgrès died at the Battle of Matouba in 1802, when he and his followers ignited their gunpowder supply, choosing to kill themselves, and as many French soldiers as they could take with them. Danae, the son of Guadeloupean parents, lives with that legacy of colonialism and slavery, and pushes back against it, though his songs, in the spirit of American blues.
Danae also places his ancestral history in a contemporary context. "Lésé Mwen Alé" ("Let Me Go"), has a Black Keys bounce, but syncopated so the track sways, the difference between dancing with your entire body and standing around, nodding your head to the music. The music feels happy and in the absence of understanding Creole, one might assume the lyrics are equally upbeat. But they're not, as the lyric sheet reveals: "I’ve been working for years / Thing is, I work for nothing / Because they took my papers / And they erased my name." There's a power in telling this kind of story in a heritage language, with the trade-off that it's harder for others outside of that shared language to internalize the message. But it's ideas many of us need to hear.
The beauty of 4:00 AM is that while there's so much depth, history, and politics to the songs, it never weighs down the tracks. But if you want to focus on the music, the album still works well, as something fun to spin and enjoy. Delgres have a serious message that's rooted in smart songwriting choices.