Review Summary: "Just move your body, and keep listening."
A cursory glance at Diamonite
invites skepticism, its superficial resemblance to some of the less memorable albums to come out of this whole recent female-fronted electronic indie pop movement suggesting a lack of originality and shallow trendiness. The lyrics at first seem annoyingly self-conscious in their preciousness - "Eat seeds and magic, eat seeds and magic / grow old with oak trees and all your cavities," mein gott
. But the debut album from Russian-born, Alaska-bred, and Brooklyn-dwelling Olga Bell is a tricky little thing, curiously beguiling and taking its sweet time to reveal the considerable charms hiding behind the façade of, well, advertisements for upscale consumer electronics. It's hard to articulate exactly why
this happens - aside from the basic fact that the preconceptions that make Bell's music initially off-putting, almost on principle, are fundamentally unsound bases to judge music on in the first place.
Which is to say that Diamonite
is some of the most unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable music I've heard all year. The production is pristine, the melodies are idiosyncratic earworms, and tying the whole affair together is Bell's voice, which is wonderfully expressive while maintaining an appealingly conversational quality. Her mannerisms have been compared to those of Björk and Feist, two easy points of reference when it comes to strong voices in indie, but make no mistake - Bell's warble is distinctive, recalling other artists working in similar molds but never sounding actively derivative of them. Certainly, such a lovely voice is crucial to making the hippie-chic lyrics of "Eat Seeds" tolerable - pleasurable
, even, at least when Bell croons, "Nobody really lives here, everybody lives in his or her own house / nobody wants to stay in, everybody hopes to be invited out". It's a refreshing burst of levelheadedness in a song bursting with cutesy "surrealism", its seeming contradiction a highly relatable one.
Bell clearly enjoys these kinds of lyrical back-and-forths; the album's most immediate cut, "Meaninglessness", rests on such a not-quite-paradox, with its hook of "All the meaninglessness means so much." It's a bit too conspicuously clever
on paper, but on record, with Bell's delivery brimming with unchecked enthusiasm, the sentiment is nearly perfect, capturing the song's simple appeal in a winningly simple manner. That the song is almost club-friendly, with its four-on-the-floor beat, reinforces this idea of futility as something tangible (that is, satisfying) sonically. Bell's lyrics do verge on the meaningless at times, which would be maddening if her world didn't sound
so intoxicating, populated with glitchy beats, vaguely tribal drumming, and enough bells to satisfy Pantha du Prince. And so we, the listeners, are the lucky ones to be invited out, the ones chosen to view Bell's unique landscapes; indeed, one gets the sense, listening to Diamonite
, that they're almost intruding on intensely private rumination. You wouldn't guess it - this is hardly intimate-sounding stuff - but when Bell implores an unspecified individual to "run your fingers over me" in the stunning "River", there's a palpable feeling of desire that recalls some of the frank and largely carnal admissions of Raphaelle Standell-Preston. After all, the track's primary metaphor is a loving and subtly sexual one: "You and me, old friend, open like a river." In a similar vein, the beautifully evolving "Charlie" opens with Bell's voice taking on a syrupy tone as she asks, "Charlie, do you feel a slow burn all along the wide old horizon?"
But Bell's brand of ardor is always infused with a sense of mystery, with some wide-eyed curiosity to go along with it. So if the use of luxurious imagery of "Bulgari" seems a bit too expected, the song's main hook of "I call'em like I see'em" provides a necessary balance, and Bell's urgent inquiries in the song's middle stretch ("How many shots were fired before you woke up in your bed?") are an interesting contrast in mood. Diamonite
may take place in a starry-eyed world, with Bell as its sole, enchanted inhabitant, but it's less a universe removed from ours as it is an escape from the pain of reality. Music becomes survival - as Bell belts on "Eat Seeds", "All we have are things we heard." And so that final song, at first so insufferably grating, becomes something akin to an emotional manifesto. For forty blissful minutes, it really is
possible to eat seeds and magic, to be an aging oak tree, to bury oneself in blue-green leaves. "Just move your body, and keep listening."