DIANA Perpetual Surrender

[Jagjaguwar; 2013]

Styles: synth pop, new wave, vaguely shoegaze
Others: Destroyer, Chromatics, Spiral Beach, Vektroid

Revivalist efforts in synth pop tend to focus on the elements that defined the more left-field varieties of pop from the 80s and 90s. It’s an understandable pattern, as the attention to both that all-important hook and the timbral world surrounding it is what draws most people to such sounds — a hazy, dreamy world with a push-and-pull style that doesn’t often veer far from contemporary standards. With some exceptions, the visible focus of front-and-center melody builds an expectation not too distant from more generic pop music, though there’s also a dedicated effort to move away from that world with the adoption of retrospective instrumental choices.

DIANA set themselves the task of crafting a sound that hearkens back to new wave with modern sensibility and relevancy. The team of songwriters Joseph Shabason and Kieran Adams, as well as lead vocalist Carmen Elle, are clearly capable of delivering a dreamy and hearty melodic hook — on every track, the band’s synth and drum machine patterns circle around the sparse verses before the band really kicks in and Elle delivers the refrain in a detached, longing mood symptomatic of the style. From the title track’s call-and-response chorus to the modal jazz-influenced “Born Again” that explodes into a heady pseudo-funk jam, DIANA have no trouble in creating songs that sit comfortably in this style.

Niggling at one’s mind, however nice the band’s sound choices are, is a feeling of predictability. Bar some fairly average squawks from the saxophone here and there, not a great deal of Perpetual Surrender feels like its treading either defiantly innovative or notably interesting territory. This is of course a predominant issue in a style so caught up in the formulaic tendencies of the past, but one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of other artists who’ve snuck in ways to sustain the listener’s attention beyond the pretty goods on display.

Perpetual Surrender doesn’t flounder or go stale — it builds a lush, lavish, poppy atmosphere that’s pleasant enough to meander through, but what becomes apparent is its pedestrian nature: the attention to craft and instrumental variety leaves little impression beyond its exquisite hooks. It’s not so much a cognitive vacuum effect, but a descriptive effort leads one to the conclusion that this ground has been trodden many times before. With their ability as a band laid clear to see, a pressing issue for DIANA is just how to set themselves apart from the enormous 80s revivalist crowd of today, where their venerable skills are a necessity perfected by a multitude of contemporaries.

Neither entirely derivative nor completely unoriginal, DIANA’s Perpetual Surrender is simply of the norm — an enjoyable yet essentially average release that plays it very safe, sticking close to preconceptions and relative “rules” of electro/synth pop without straying too far from the groundwork set down by the figures from another era it quotes and, to some degree, replicates.

Links: DIANA - Jagjaguwar

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