Leading up to the release of their debut album Perpetual Surrender, Toronto band DIANA had already been placed into the already overflowing ‘chillwave’ category. It was easy, most music bloggers identified the essential traits of the trendy species; Carmen Elle’s vocals readily drowning into heavily processed synth-beats were the perfect alibi for musical name-calling.
Even though they are easily comparable to other ‘chillwave’ acts, DIANA deviates just enough as their 1980s-influenced, upbeat synth-pop tracks are actually capable of making heads nod, a fact that was apparent last Wednesday night during their POP Montreal show. The night started with Empress Of and MORI, who served as a perfect preamble to DIANA. The headliners proved that just ‘chilling’ is not what you ought to do when seeing them live.
In their live set, as in their album, DIANA are at their best when performing their own unapologetic strain of pop. With their live performance of Perpetual Surrender single, “Born Again,” the band proved that although Elle’s vocals can gracefully and successfully adorn atmospheric songs, the best output comes when her voice takes hold of the melody. “Born Again,” the best song of the night, exploits Elle’s vocal abilities to create catchy hooks that I might just be humming as I write this.
Another highlight of the night was the cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” beautifully carried out by Elle’s vocal creativity. This rendition was an effective homage to their 1980s influences, an essential part of their sound.
As with many Canadian acts, DIANA’s rise to indie pseudo-stardom has come with nationalistic exaltations and excruciatingly loud buzz. This is dangerous. Many acts that are heavily influenced by their peers end up with a somewhat generic sound, and the buzz ends up being their demise. DIANA is close to being this sort of band, but at POP, they lived up to a lot of the praise, especially surrounding their ability to move a crowd in their live shows.
Most importantly, the show proved that DIANA has a promising horizon. Yet this might be the biggest problem with the band. DIANA is good enough to display signs of perhaps becoming a darling in its own niche, but they presently lack enough ‘oomph’ and experience. In an explicit indication of this, the band was unable to perform encore songs despite the audience’s demand because, according to Elle, they didn’t know how to play any more songs. This earnestness mimics the sincerity in their sound and lyrics, which is perhaps what keeps the buzz and hums going.