Deli Girls – “I Don’t Know How To Be Happy” (2019)

I can’t stop listening to I Don’t Know How To Be Happy.

I got turned onto Deli Girls via one of those “The Best Albums So Far This Year That You Haven’t Heard” kind of articles, and even though I rarely buy digital-only releases it was clear after just a few song snipits that I wanted more of this. I NEEDED more of this.

Deli Girls are New Yorkers Danny Orlowski (vocals and pure, raw emotion) and Tommi Kelly (all things electronic), and they’re tired of the shit the world throws at them. Their first label release was the chaotic Evidence in 2017 (they self-released their six-song debut in 2016), an album that captured their live power in a way contained by the barest of structure. The songs straddled the line between control and the loss of it, often careening off into sheer cathartic anguish. It’s jarring and completely lacking in any kind of pretense or subtlety. The pain of objectification? Just listen to “Little Man, Little Camera”. Of being ignored by the authorities after being raped? “Evidence”. It’s not just rebelling against the powerlessness that society tries to impose on those who fall outside the mainstream. It’s about owning those experiences and drawing on that rage to push back against it.

Let’s be clear for a minute – I’m probably not in the Deli Girls’ target demographic. I’m a middle aged white guy who lives in the suburbs and has a very typical white collar job. As far as Society (capital S) is concerned I’m “normal”, at least outwardly so. And that generally makes it easier for me to navigate the day-to-day world. I hope that my cranking Deli Girls up to 11 on my car stereo while on my seemingly endless afternoon commute doesn’t make me look like the Michael Bolton character in Office Space. Maybe it does, at least on the outside. But I don’t care. Because even though I don’t share many of the same experiences that have shaped Danny and Tommi’s music and words, their power and honesty compel me to listen, and in so doing challenges and re-shapes my perceptions of the world around me, as well as the experiences of others. And that, my friends, is never a bad thing.

Which brings us to the duo’s latest release, I Don’t Know How To Be Happy, which finds Deli Girls in a more confident place. Certainly Kelly’s electro wizardry still makes unexpected jump cuts in the middle of tracks, maintaining a level of spontaneity, but the tracks feel more intentional. They’re not constructed from a detailed blueprint, but there’s still a high-level sense of overall design and flow that contains each composition. If the song is a box, then its sides aren’t made of stone, but more like rubber – something that vibrates like a speaker cone on your fingertip, giving it the flexibility to go where it needs to. And Orlowski? The power is still here, the rawness of the emotion right on the surface, but with a bit more emphasis. This is a structured rage, articulate and confident and maintaining a precise level of control, walking the razor’s edge. Orlowski doesn’t need a complex lyrical story to convey a message – that’s done by pounding repetition of just a handful of words or phrases colored by changes to tone and projection. I Don’t Know How To Be Happy also sees Deli Girls effectively using the studio’s tools to sometimes layer the vocals, providing additional nuance without detracting from the charged nature of the message.

I Don’t Know How To Be Happy is, frankly, outstanding, and it will definitely be a contender in a number of categories in my annual year-end lists. You can give it a listen HERE as well as purchase a digital copy. Recommended tracks are “Officer” and “Shut Up”, but you can’t go wrong regardless of where you click play.

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