Willie Reviews Hannah Diamond’s “Reflections”

Willie Reviews Hannah Diamond’s “Reflections”

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It’s hard to believe that we’re just now hearing Hannah Diamond’s first album, but Reflections is here, and Diamond’s songs are just as delightfully puzzling as ever. RPM’s review:

The bigness of the End of the Decade invites speculation about future histories. Years down the line, they’ll all be asking “Just what was the 2010s?” And though we’re too close, we take a crack at it as well. In the spirit of premature historicizing, I’ve been thinking about the idea of a “short 2010s.” In my mind, the decade began somewhere around 2013 and might already be over, but we’ll have to see how the 2020s play out. Label PC Music formed in 2013 and either popularized or hopped on board with many trends in new pop. It was weird, niche, and even kind of popular. Featuring a lineup of artists capable of provoking narrowed eyes and furrowed brows, it has always tried to reckon with the overwhelming connectivity and ringing white noise of the internet. Singer Hannah Diamond has been with the label since the start, using pop star iconography to blast herself into the hyperreal. In 2014 and 2015, she was one of the faces of the emergent label, which has shrunk back a little since then. So at the tail end of these short 2010s, it’s not altogether unexpected to see her first LP, but it does bend time back to the PC Music moment. Together with producer and label head A.G. Cook, Diamond’s Reflections provides an encapsulation of the last seven years that feels just as unsettling as any good PC Music release should.

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Settling on the album’s genre, even just for casual reference, is difficult. The long-asked and oft-ignored question “is it pop?” is usually a self-answered question, so I’ll just call it pop. If we’re calling bedroom pop pop and noise pop pop—genres not even within the generous realm of pop—then bubblegum dance music adjacent in every way to popular music should also be pop. So it is, and Cook’s famously glassy production sands off almost every obstacle to easy listening. Uncanny and subtly melancholic, it feels like the sad experience of actually listening to Top 40 tracks. When a hit song says “Tonight… Everything’s gonna be all right” and you’re standing at a bathroom sink, you’re more likely interpreting it in the bizarre form that Diamond and Cook excitedly pursue. On the title track, Diamond cheerily sings “It’s all a deception / You don’t know who you are, it’s a question.” Somewhere between self-help and threatening analysis, her words cut deeper than simple parody. In the stable lyrical zone of breakup music, she peppers in destabilizing fragments like “So I’ll stay home tonight / And every night / I wanted to tell you / But I couldn’t make a sound.”

In the same way that Diamond’s lyrics pass a quick scan, Cook’s production is so up-front that it earns unthinkable diversions from the pop template. Anyone familiar with Cook’s sound won’t be surprised to see it mostly hold the course from 2013 to the present. Shiny synth arpeggios and pitch bends abound, complemented by ridiculously high vocal doublings and clipped phrases. It’s that not-quite-a-computer sound that alienates droves of listeners. But those willing to accept it then find themselves in the deep end on a song like “Concrete Angel.” Admittedly, it’s an outlier, but it maximizes every slick technique in a cover of a trance track. Stretches between sections last just a little bit too long, and the rhythmic footholds are few. “Love Goes On” escalates in its twelve repetitions of the title phrase. It also contains my favorite lyric, the breathless run-on “I met someone new but he’s not like you and I kissed his face in a different place and he’s not the one but my love goes on.”

Hannah Diamond, self portrait by the artist

So the easiest way to place the album ends up being to meet it where it is, and that’s deep in the abstract. Though Diamond spends so many lines recounting the dramas of a single life, there’s a palpable anxiety that none of it belongs to her. She paints no specific characters, taking pop’s distaste for imagery to the extreme. Specificity drops the curtain. In taking this project on, her subjectivity comes into question because of the persona she’s concocted. The Hannah Diamond persona always shows her face and opens her up to her fans, but it would be a challenge to characterize her further than a smiling pop star. It seems uber on-the-nose to arrive at a central meaning in the album’s title, but it really is all about reflection (did you know diamonds are reflective minerals?).

I’m quite sure that Reflections is not too slippery to take anything away from. Its reality is whatever we can readily be sure of, and that’s the performativity of it. When we talk about what the late 2010s wanted, let it be on the record that Hannah Diamond wanted something real, whatever that may mean.

Score: Staring at the fan until it disappears into the ceiling.

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