Diamonds on my damn chain
Last month, I wrote an entry about a few new mini-genre trends that I saw emerging, all of which took little bits and pieces of electronic dance music and ran with them. My favorite of the three by far was swirly percussive post-noise, not really a catchy name but whatever. The only two real examples I had were Soft Circle’s Full Bloom and Gang Gang Dance’s live shows, but I definitely liked the idea that all these postpunk types were simultaneously discovering the pleasures of hazy dancing-on-clouds psychedelia and full-bore endless-repeat club music. I really liked the Soft Circle album, which approached that fusion firmly from the experimental-psychedelic side of things, finding room for rippling echoed drum-thumps in its seas of reverbed-out guitar-noodles and wordless chants. But lately I’ve been even more taken with another album, one that combines the same sounds but filters them through a different set of prisms, taking dance toward psych instead of taking psych toward dance. That album is Kathy Diamond’s Miss Diamond to You, a disco record that pushes its sound outward toward its retro-futuristic logical conclusions.
I downloaded Miss Diamond to You a few weeks ago after reading a few recommendations, and it remains a vague and mysterious piece of work even on the twentieth listen. The album won’t be commercially released until May, and even then it’ll be a British import. So in a way, the album just emerged suddenly out of a void, stamped with a name and little else. I haven’t been able to find any interviews with Diamond anywhere online, and half the Google results for her are actually for someone named Kathy Diamond Davis, apparently a woman from Oklahoma City who wrote a book about dog therapy, definitely not the same person. Also not a lot of help is Diamond’s MySpace page, which only tells us that she’s from Sheffield, that she lives in London now, and that she once self-released a single called “Miracles Just Might.” She’s as shadowy a presence on her own album as she is on the internet. All of the songs on Miss Diamond to You are long but not too long, hovering in the six-minute range, lazily stretching their sounds out but never letting them get tedious. Like every other element in the mix, Diamond’s voice usually comes coated in layer upon layer of reverb, and it goes silent for long stretches, letting the bongo-ripples and Seinfeld bass-popping do the heavy lifting as often as not. In a lot of ways, Miss Diamond to You is pretty similar to another piece of mysterious European retro-Italo fluff that I absolutely loved, Sally Shapiro‘s Disco Romance. But the naive, wounded character of Shapiro’s voice was the primary driving force behind Disco Romance, and Diamond’s voice has virtually no character whatsoever; it’s a soft, breathy blank, another effect in a mix full of them. Her lyrics immediately dissipate as soon as they hit the ear, and her coo never strains to reach any big notes. In her own way, she’s every bit as unlikely a disco diva as Shapiro. Her vocals certainly don’t convey passion or conviction or furor; if they evoke any emotion at all, it’s a sort of warm contentedness. One “Until the Sun Goes Down,” one of the album’s best songs, Diamond herself doesn’t even show up in the mix for the first four minutes. Instead, we hear a riot of multilayered percussion and whistle-blasts that eventually give way to a dizzily undulating organ-echo and then, finally, a vocal. There’s a lot going on in that extended intro, but it never feels spazzy or anarchic. Even at its most fevered, the track muffles and smooshes all its pieces together into a blanketing goo. It’s tough to imagine dancing to this stuff, but it sure makes for great rainy-afternoon music.
All of the album’s production comes from Maurice Fulton, a house producer originally from Baltimore who I mostly know as the instrumental half of the noisy electro duo Mu. Plenty of critics loved Mu’s two albums, but I couldn’t find much to like in them beyond a few isolated tracks. I always thought that most of their tracks would make pretty good dance songs if left unmolested, but instead they sabotaged themselves by injecting spazzy little glitches and horrible screeches wherever possible. On Miss Diamond to You, Fulton stops trying to derail his own beats and does the opposite, surrounding those pulses and twitches with clouds of sound that only serve to enhance the hypnotic zone-out effect. Earlier today, Nick Sylvester wrote something about how the album reminded him of Crystal Waters, and today I learned from this bio that Fulton actually apprenticed with the Basement Boys, the Baltimore house duo who produced her biggest hits, even doing some programming work for Waters. I went back today and revisited “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” and “100% Pure Love,” something I totally recommend doing right now. And I can hear the parallel; the Waters tracks are sharper and harder, but they have the same lush, airy sheen. On Miss Diamond to You, Fulton takes those sounds and gives them a certain meditative sadness, slowing them down and spacing them out. I love the idea that Fulton has had these sounds bouncing around in his head for a couple of decades now and that he’s still finding new things to do with them, and I’m tempted to say that Miss Diamond to You belongs to Fulton at least as much as it does to Diamond. But then again, assigning credit is a really dicey thing to do with an album like this one. As much as I like it, I don’t really know a damn thing about it.