Del Suelo’s inspired musicality will hook you in from the first. The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme opens with the tune “Second Encore” and Suelo, a stage name for Erik Mehlsen, introduces the story of a traveling band’s day with intelligence and accessibility. The songwriting isn’t above embracing an array of influences but, rather than attempting to ape them, Mehlsen’s playing excellence infuses them with a distinctive melodic touch and wrings further changes to familiar sounds and themes. “Pack Rats” is a single release from The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme and a fun music video accompanies it, but it’s glossy and skillfully presented window dressing for one of the leading musical performances found on this studio album. Mehlsen boasts chops galore, obviously, but any technique he draws on informs, rather than interferes, with his ability to connect with listeners.
There’s a certain wry appraisal of character reflected in how Mehlsen cops so many twists on popular song and album titles for tracks on this album. The punk nod of “Berlin Calling” promises something Clash-like and Mehlsen delivers, in his own idiosyncratic fashion, while also advancing the album’s narrative. It would likely prove an interesting experience to read the accompanying novel of the same title, likewise written by Mehlsen, while listening to the album, but there’s no question the songwriting accomplishes much. “A Lust Supreme” expands further on this feeling and sweeps listeners up into its late night metropolitan swirl. Another standout chorus is the key hook for “A Lust Supreme” and creative keyboard work flashing like quicksilver over the drumming keeps things moving at a satisfying, measured rate.
“Nightstream” is, at first, a study in sonic contrast as its opening wash of white noise, akin to a raucous crowd, transforms into the album’s most meditative, pensive moment. There is a palpable pastoral shading coloring “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”and the consistency of Mehlsen’s approach to the vocals begins to pay off huge by this juncture as it continues strengthening an unified sound few artists of any stature can claim. Mehlsen, track after track, inhabits these songs with a rare combination of melodic presence and emotional rigor – he doesn’t spare anything plumbing the depths of “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” and the post production effects applied to his voice only enrich the overall effect.
Those melodic talents continue shining through on “Caress of Steel Wheels”. It’s a smart, well-written tune with another of The Musician’s Compass’ first rate choruses. He really throws himself into this one and reaches soulful peaks that make this one of the album’s best tunes. I can’t really say enough about the drumming for this release – the production never fails surrounding each beat with clarity and snap that sets a sharp tone for the song. The habit of five star choruses continues with “Enter the Tempel” and it’s one of a handful of moments on this sophomore release when Mehlsen’s singing is so good and evocative you forget he’s so young comparatively young and such a virtuoso musician as well. It’s likely a seldom discussed facet of his skill set, but the vocal performances on The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme is nothing short of breathtaking. The album peaks in a breathtaking way with the extended tune “Darn that Dream/Stairway to Eleven”, a song that gives us a sense of his main character’s regret without ever belaboring the despair. There’s nuance and depth in everything Del Suelo does on this release; it’s really nothing less than a modern classic.