DIANA – Perpetual Surrender
Jagjaguwar / Paper Bag
With their recently released debut album Perpetual Surrender, Toronto-based band DIANA comes precariously close to being just another synth-pop group. They manage to save themselves by making it evident that not only do they also want to make people sway and bob their heads (and maybe even dance), they want to make people think. While parts of the album drag on unnecessarily and sound awfully close to H&M background music, the majority of it demonstrates both the group’s collective talent and broad abilities.
The first track, “Foreign Installation,” starts the album off strongly with a serious question accompanied by hazy synth backing, but goes on too long. As the album progresses, DIANA flirts with a few more upbeat dance tempos, while vocalist Carmen Elle continues to sing about chasing lies and wasting love. The title track best illustrates the band’s talents, with Elle’s voice carrying smoothly over the clean, if slightly over-produced, drum and synth rhythm; the saxophone solo also offers a refreshing change of pace.
The album flows well from song to song, even if some tracks are almost worth skipping or sound too similar to the ones they follow. “Born Again” climaxes into an almost Marina and the Diamonds-like chorus, which DIANA manages to pull off in a way that isn’t too sugary-sweet but instead asks to be sung along or danced to. The second-to-last song on the album, “New House,” is the most mature, and shows that DIANA shouldn’t be given up on yet. “New House,” would probably have been a better finish to the album than “Curtains.” While Perpetual Surrender may not introduce DIANA into the world as anything fantastically new, it does offer a positive glimpse into what could come from them in the future.
Caro Emerald – The Shocking Miss Emerald
Grandmono Records and Dramatico
With her breakthrough single “Back it Up” and debut album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, Caro Emerald brought listeners a sound that seamlessly merged jazz, pop, and tango. Her second album, The Shocking Miss Emerald, doesn’t deviate from this style, even slightly.
Emerald’s sweet yet husky voice, following a varied, upbeat tempo, combines with masterful backing from her saxophonist to give the album a retro feel that is tinged with nostalgia for a time of Chevy Camaros, martinis, and men who wore hats to work, never ceasing to be light and fun. This is music to relax to, music to dance to, even music to laugh to. There is real humour in her lyrics – “If playing with your string happens to be your thing,” she sings coyly to one gentleman during the hit song “Tangled Up.” Meanwhile, tracks like “Coming Back as A Man” maintain mildly feminist overtones. Here, Emerald describes how she plans to take on a more masculine identity, both by literally cross-dressing and then by reversing the typical romantic roles so that it is she who chooses and ensnares the man for a night of pleasure that he won’t forget. Moments like this bring an intellectual edge to these sweet-sounding tunes.
However, while the music is sexy and slinky, it never strips and scandalizes. Emerald has repeated the formula of her first album without variation. No artist wants to risk a sophomore slump, but by reproducing an already old-fashioned sound, this singer has begun to stagnate. The record has a lot to recommend it. Old fans looking for more of the same won’t be disappointed. Fans of Lana del Rey, Duffy, and Amy Winehouse looking to branch away from mainstream pop are sure to find a new heroine in Emerald. Ultimately though, there is nothing new here. The Shocking Miss Emerald? Not so much. The Consistently Enjoyable but Slightly Tired Miss Emerald seems more apt. Sadly, this doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Our lovely neighbours from across the pond have been providing us with quality alternative music for decades: The Kinks, Radiohead, Bloc Party, and the Libertines, to name a few. Another British export, Arctic Monkeys, recently released their fifth studio album AM.
The album is undoubtedly their most sensual, as frontman Alex Turner croons cleanly and crisply, laying out lyrics like “If you like your coffee hot, let me be your coffee pot” and “There’s a tune I found that makes me think of you somehow, and I play it on repeat,” words that may cause Turner’s fangirls to spontaneously combust when sung over a heavy bassline.
The album begins with the single “Do I Wanna Know?,” a glammy beat-driven alt-rock anthem. Other songs, like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “I Wanna Be Yours,” have a nostalgic air to them, the kind of sad Elton John song your parents play in the car. Beware: many songs, like “Knee Socks,” score high on the ‘cheesiness scale,’ but are eloquently disguised by Turner’s, as some would call it, ‘cool factor.’
While listening to AM, the growth of the band’s sound is incredibly evident. Gone are the days of the grungy, underground Arctic Monkeys. Their new sound is clean and tight. The boys have traded their long messy hair for coiffed 1960s hairdos, and their jeans have been replaced by fitted suits. AM has a more sterile sound, not necessarily an improvement on their earlier efforts. It’s not impressive, but it’s enjoyable. AM may not be the next OK Computer (Radiohead acclaimed album), but it is good, nonetheless.
Hobo Cubes – Rapid Glow
Hobo Cubes (a.k.a. Montrealer Francesco De Gallo) walks you through the intricacies of the mind in his new tape Rapid Glow. Francesco De Gallo is a serious beast of experimental electronic music. Not only is he the mastermind behind the Hobo Cult cassette label, but he also has an impressive list of bands and collaborations under his belt.
This album is a trip from the beginning. The first track, “Phase Attraction,” transports the listener with arpeggiation that could be straight from an 1980s arcade game. The track to follow, “Subliminality Chamber,” has alien-sounding loops that endlessly rotate, punctuated by twinkling notes; the perfect entrance to such foreign territory. Hobo Cubes forms perfect relationships within Rapid Glow. The track “Infinity Pillow” is the perfect complement to its subsequent track “Therapy Vision.” The former lulls the listener into a comfortable state, mimicking slumber by washing over them with throbbing tones and constant reassuring hums. Towards the end of the track, crisper notes interrupt the sleep, which harmonize well with the alarm-clock-like penetration of “Therapy Vision.”
Rapid Glow is not music to be shared with others. Its dreamy dissolving synths complemented with glitchy ebbing tones seem too personal to share. They are entirely individual. The flowing layers seem to emanate from the listener themselves, while those that pop along the surface feel like curious beeping robots. This album’s minimalistic approach and clean modular tones are tranquil but colourful, never allowing room for boredom. It separates the body from the burden of its surroundings, and plunges it into a relaxing sensory experience.