The hard truth is, no matter how many albums we review each year, there are always countless releases that end up overlooked. That’s why, this month, we’re bringing back our
No Album Left Behind
series, in which the Paste Music team has the chance to circle back to their favorite underrated records of 2021 and sing their praises.
Subgenres come and go. New waves and scenes emerge to replace old ones, making genre a generally ephemeral concept. That impermanence only increases as streaming services further solidify, meaning that listening habits become more eclectic and genre-agnostic with everything available to us all of the time, as a certain comedian once observed. Genres both splinter off into new shapes and dissolve into oblivion, which makes the new ones all the more intriguing to listen to. So when teenage producer dltzk (pronounced “delete Zeke”) referred to their debut album, Frailty, as “dariacore,” it only heightened that sense of intrigue. Fortunately, it pays off.
The New Jersey artist came up with the genre’s name while working in FL Studio after finishing the animated television show Daria. Once the tracks were complete, dltzk “decided to upload a bunch of nameless songs to an account called leroy with the cover arts being screenshots from Daria episodes,” as they mentioned in a recent interview. Thus, dariacore was born. Sonically, though, dltzk’s music is a masterful amalgam of myriad other subgenres: digicore, hyperpop, emo, bedroom pop, EDM, Nintendocore, the list goes on. If such an extensive list makes Frailty sound like a meandering mess, then it simply speaks to dltzk’s impressive skills as a producer. Nothing sounds disjointed or out of place. Frailty, clocking in at nearly an hour with 13 tracks, is coherent yet ambitious, focused yet towering.
dltzk has said that they are a massive fan of EDM artists such as Porter Robinson and Skrillex, yet they also borrow from videogame soundtracks, including OSTs for Undertale and the Pokémon series. At the same time, their music evokes that of a modern wave of rising producers, including PinkPantheress and Glaive, as well as more straightforward indie-pop like Passion Pit. It’s quite the feat for all these styles to coalesce with such finesse, and that’s precisely what dltzk has achieved. Take the opener, “goldfish,” which is a lo-fi guitar arrangement that captures the young artist in their most unvarnished state. There are no additional layers; it’s simple and effective. Immediately after is “your clothes,” a song built on an infectious synth hook and dance beat, and it features vocal delivery angsty enough for a Warped Tour slot. The six-minute epic “kodak moment” elicits wistful nostalgia with a winsome synth melody, yet the penultimate song, “eyes off the wheel, i’m a star,” disturbs the peace with a glitchy, double-time emo breakdown.
dltzk’s wide-ranging tastes permeate Frailty, fragmenting and fusing simultaneously. Although they mine sounds of the past and present alike, each facet of Frailty sounds uniquely their own. There are elements of the producer’s influences scattered throughout, but this remains dltzk’s show first and foremost. Their distinctive vocal timbre helps tie everything together, and it lends the entire record an unequivocal emo edge that’s become a staple of digicore—and, by extension, dariacore. The heartfelt closer, “let’s go home,” is the perfect showcase of their voice, which can range from a comfortable tenor to a strained alto that evinces its unfaltering sincerity, as emo singers are wont to do.
Frailty is rife with catchy hooks, as exemplified on tracks like “your clothes” and “search party,” but dltzk infuses them with enough instability and surprise to make them more exciting. “movies for guys,” for instance, could be a relatively elementary pop song about a crush gone awry. Instead, it dissolves into a chaotic saga divided by symphonic, experimental movements. The standout track “kodak moment” follows a similar trajectory: It begins as a simple emo-electronic song lamenting the end of a relationship, but toward the end of the first section, there’s a piano line reminiscent of Robinson at his most tranquil, and it’s soon obliterated by blasts of synth noise reminiscent of 100 gecs at their most abrasive. It’s in these moments of sheer unpredictability that dltzk’s music is most electrifying. It’s their grasp of aural entropy that establishes dltzk as one of today’s most promising producers.
dltzk may blend the sounds of their influences to a discernible degree, but all creative work is derivative to some extent. It’s a matter of what you do with your influences that sets you apart, and dltzk has managed to combine a multitude of styles to produce something undeniably refreshing. Frailty is a testament to the power of genre and how everything we consume inevitably infiltrates our psyche. It gives genre-agnosticism new meaning; though agnosticism may imply skepticism, rather than acceptance, Frailty is an embrace of all that has preceded it and will eventually follow it.
Grant Sharples is a writer based in Kansas City. He has contributed to MTV News, Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Ringer, SPIN and others. Follow him on Twitter @grantsharpies.