Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diamond Youth

To some, pop music seems generally suspicious, especially when it wears the robe of rock 'n' roll. And maybe it should. Sometime during the latter half of its history—as rock music became harder, heavier, angrier, and more aggressive—someone recognized that, when recorded with a predictable kind of clarity, it could be commoditized and hawked to a wider radio audience.

These some see this as a suspicious contradiction; after all, something as visceral as modern rock should sound raw, rough, and at least a little reckless, right? And if it doesn't, for what impure reasons mustn't it be messy?

Maybe this is why Diamond, during an initial listen, seems suspicious—too pristine, too perfect. Take Don't Lose Your Cool, the Baltimore band's second self-released EP; “The Feeling”, for example, begins with enormous guitar chords, smoked with the right amount of rich distortion, sliding against each other with a slick sort of friction. Singer Justin Gilman's voice, during the first verse and chorus, is stacked in octaves—one low and soft, the other a quiet falsetto—and only evolves into a single-voiced howl during the song's next verse. Following another chorus that climbs higher than the first, a guitar solo erupts, scalding and slow, from the mountain this song has become. The fifth tack on Don't Lose Your Cool, “The Feeling” is dynamic; catchy and crunchy; and a powerful, unpredictable pop song.

If pop music seems suspicious, if it feels manufactured or commoditized, then it may seem surprising that Diamond follows DIY philosophies and give their records away for free.

We're very passionate about keeping this entire being our own,” Gilman says. “We want to build this monster where we're creating the best art in general, and not necessarily music, whether it's a music video that we direct from concept to completion, or an album, or our posters or merchandise, or live video streaming events. We just want to be this entity that promotes the fact that you can do it yourself, now, because you can.”

It's for this reason that, despite offers from a handful of independent labels, Diamond continues to conduct its band business on its own. “Nowadays,” Gilman argues, “it's less important [to sign to a record label] because we've been giving our music away for free, obviously, and we work with PR and merch companies ourselves. We're sort of doing what a label would do, other than distro. Anyway, we kind of like taking the wheel.”

Diamond started when Gilman met guitarist Sam Trapkin at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Gilman, at the time, was playing in an indie band called We Read Minds, and Trapkin was constructing the metal-influenced hardcore band called Trapped Under Ice. “We were from polar-opposite worlds,” Gilman laughs, “but we still related on loving music in general, whether it was Grizzly Bear, or Hatebreed, or Radiohead, or the Beatles. We love everything if it's a well-written song.” When Trapkin suggested that they combine their musical powers and perform music that finds a middle ground, Gilman agreed. “We grew up on 90s rock,” he explains, “like Bush and Pearl Jam, Everclear and the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, of course, Silverchair and Weezer. So we were like, 'Let's do a back to our roots, simple, catchy-yet-unique rock band with a dark edge.'”

Their design background allows Diamond to fulfill some of its DIY desires—the band constructs its own aesthetic, from t-shirts to its online presence to the album art of Don't Lose Your Coolbut being from different musical backgrounds allows the band to pursue another priority: musical ambiguity. “We're influenced by so many different things,” Gilman says, “and we really, really don't want to fall into a scene.” Because Trapkin and drummer Brendan Yates tour with Trapped Under Ice and bassist David Wood performs in hardcore band Down to Nothing, Diamond's polished pop is tarnished with a subtle hardcore patina, which allows them to play alongside pop-punk bands one week and indie bands the next.

A song like “Sunburn”, which kicks off Don't Lose Your Cool, might best capture Diamond's ability to harness their hardcore influence and channel it into a controlled, catchy song. Together, Trapkin and Gilman's guitars scuttle from chord to chord, scramble to the adrenalized pulse Yates' drums; when the song dips into a halftime chorus—when Gilman's croon rises over suddenly clean, twinkling guitars; Yates' tip-toeing cadence; and the melodic murmur of Woods' bass—it's clear that Diamond succeeds where many other musicians struggle: making pop music that is as thought-provoking and unpredictable as it is memorable.

Of course, Diamond also shatters that silly notion that anyone should ever be suspicious of pop music, even those polished recordings are wearing the robe of rock 'n' roll.

Gilman recorded these songs from his home office on a warm afternoon in early spring. He was still getting settled into this new apartment in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago, which he had moved to a mere two days earlier.

"Keep Dreamin'" appears on Band's 2011 EP titled Don't Lose Your Cool. "God Only Knows" is a Beach Boys cover; the song originally appeared on the 1966 album Pet Sounds.

Visit the band's website for more music, or download Don't Lose Your Cool for free.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Three for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2012. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

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