Heavy on vocal processing and maximalist A. G. Cook production, the PC Music star’s first full-length can’t help feeling a little anticlimactic.
Hannah Diamond’s “Pink and Blue” still sounds bizarre and striking: like a record Hey Arnold!’s Helga Pataki would make with chintzy synth plugins and one day of voice lessons. The track helped catapult PC Music, the collective Diamond and producers A. G. Cook and Danny L Harle belonged to, from SoundCloud oddity to sonic architects for the mainstream: Carly Rae Jepsen, David Guetta, Madonna. But while the producers have become big names (by producer standards), besides early collaborator SOPHIE the vocalists largely have not. Part of that’s how you define success; Diamond’s had her own breakthrough as a visual designer, collaborating with artists like Offset and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander. Part of it’s that PC Music’s vocalists present themselves less as singer-songwriters—as real people—than high concepts. (An early headline: “Hannah Diamond Is Real.”)
More simply, “Pink and Blue” came out in 2013 and now it is 2019. And while Diamond’s cohort have expanded their sound—to the apocalyptic scope of OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES, the New Age soaring of Caroline Polachek’s Pang, or Charli XCX’s bangers-as-an-ethos Pop 2—Diamond’s new album Reflections pretty much still sounds like 2013. That’s because it’s not far removed: Reflections was meant to be a 2016 EP, and over the past decade, most of the tracks have been released piecemeal via mixes and one-offs. If you hate PC Music, you will continue to; if you love them, Reflections will not change that.
But producer A. G. Cook’s done a lot since 2013, so inevitably, these tracks register less as individual Cook songs than as types of Cook song. There are the ones derived from trance, like “True,” which is like trying to recreate a Sash! song in a MIDI sequencer stuck on a slow BPM. There are the ones that emulate video games, like “Fade Away,” which might as well be an arrangement of the star maze music from Super Mario Land 2. There are the ones, like “Shy,” that sound like the Jock Jams that sound like “Party Rock Anthem.” “Never Again” sounds as if Cook, who recently became Charli XCX’s creative director, were so inspired by her True Romance song “Take My Hand” that he decided to remake it on a music box. (It also has vinyl crackles, which on a Hannah Diamond record are like taking a face-bedazzling app and making the icon a skeuomorphistic wardrobe.)
Throughout, Diamond sings largely in straight-tone chorister voice, free of vibrato or aggression —all the better to rush it through AutoTune glissandos, or singe it with electricity, or let it ping away like a metronome. Her lyrics detail love and heartbreak through affectless matter-of-fact recollections like, “I kissed his face in a different place”—a new hookup recalled with all the pulsing romantic immediacy of an Achewood punchline. If there’s an overarching mood, it’s subversiveness: little nihilistic or dissociated asides, the hints of lowered expectations on “Fade Away” (“I always thought I’d be the picture saved on your screen”) or “Make Believe,” a love song delivered less to a person than to an idealized concept. This kind of cleverness has arguably become the going mode for pop; Sofi Tukker essentially rewrote “Make Believe” this year on “Fantasy,” and Diamond’s general shtick has been adopted by LIZ and Poppy. But that doesn’t mean Diamond was first, either. The joke of “Shy” is that you’re too shy to confess your feelings but not too shy to belt about them loudly—the same joke as another “Shy,” from the fairytale musical Once Upon a Mattress.
Diamond’s said in interviews that Reflections comes from real emotional experience, but it’s hard to imagine a listener using these songs for actual crushes, or breakups, or parties, or anything outside one’s own head. It’s all very conceptual; this isn’t “pop music is deep actually,” or even “pop music is fun”; it’s “pop music is shallow as hell, and by the way, isn’t shallow uncanny?” Teen pop does not sound like this. EDM, trance, J-pop, any stated inspiration: none totally sound like this. Really, very little in pop has sounded like this at any point, at least not before the PC Music crew started producing it themselves. There’s a certain freedom there. “No one’s going to be as freaked out by [my music] now,” Diamond told Vice, with some relief.
And it’s true; not only will no one be freaked out, Diamond and company have rearranged collective musical tastes around themselves. But it also makes Reflections a little anticlimactic. Tellingly, the most striking track is a cover: “Concrete Angel,” which isn’t the Martina McBride song (though that would be something) but the Gareth Emery/Christina Novelli trance hit. From the first notes, it’s from a different, less online world: a bassline with sinew and sweat, a lyric and melody that yearn and swoon with minimal AutoTune futzing (for Diamond, at least). Then, the track polymorphs. First comes a snap track and “Popcorn” synths. Then, a Dannii Minogue-y spoken-word interlude. Then, a happy hardcore remix. Then a fidgety, snippetized double-time track. Then something approaching breakcore. More happens in these four minutes than the rest of the album combined; it’s exhilarating, and the visceral emotion of the beginning makes the re-re-remixing feel like a release, rather than a gimmick. “Concrete Angel” isn’t new either—it provided the title of Diamond’s 2017 mix Soon I won’t see you at all—but it’s a reminder of when PC Music sounded like the future, rather than just sounding like themselves.Source link