"Now's the time for believing.." begins the chorus of "Born Again", the first single from DIANA's self-titled debut. On a very surface level, the song floats by on a silk cloud, a deep bass doing it's best to keep you buoyed while saturated synths elevate the listener into an opiated trance. Digging deeper into the lyrics however, we find a story of struggle in a small town, small-minded animosity, and the joy of triumph over adversity. Full of lush sounds and melodic hooks, these songs aim to entice the listener into a world that is deeper than its surface may let on. Beneath the smooth and silky surface often lies a tightened fist, a Factory Records intensity that pushes things forward.
DIANA is Joseph Shabason, Kieran Adams, and Carmen Elle (Paul Mathew has since joined to round out the live show). Shabason and Adams had spent plenty of time making music together since meeting at music school. They had lent their skills with their first instruments (saxophone and drums, respectively) to many bands in their native Canada, including Shabason's recent contributions to Destroyer's excellent Kaputt and subsequent touring. It was a leap of faith to commit their efforts to making a full-length album of original music, but time had come for it to take priority.
After writing and demoing on an August trip to a lakeside cottage, Shabason and Adams went into the studio with engineer and co-producer Roger Leavens. They asked that Toronto vocalist Carmen Elle come in to try singing on a track. Both Kieran and Joseph had seen her perform in groups around the city and thought her voice might add something special to the songs. This was a massive underestimation. Regardless of who wrote these songs, the lyrics and melodies belonged to Elle the moment they escaped her mouth, each nuance of phrasing and melody deepening the sentiments put forth. With the last puzzle piece in place, it felt right to give the project a life beyond the studio, and DIANA had begun.
Something about being written on the fringe of summer seems to have translated onto these tracks. "We were blind to all the ways we sat and watched it fade away…" echoes the reluctantly detached refrain at the end of "That Feeling." It echoes through a mist of synths layered on top of insistent drums and bass. It is future music about a wish for a past that has all but disappeared. There seems to always be something looming in the corners these songs, a pop sensibility is undeniably present, but never overwhelming. There is always just enough room left for the imagination to complete the picture.
Though there are glances to music past and kinship with music present, there is a new school-feel to the affair. DIANA comparisons defy eras; from Roxy Music to Royksopp, from Style Council to Glass Candy, from Sade to Studio. Though they're happy to be in this good company, for the members of DIANA, it seems that the point is pushing things forward. Be it the dense ambient swell that begins the album opener "Foreign Installation" to the embryonic bliss of instrumental closer "Curtains," there are stories and sounds that will leave you wondering whether it's best to stare at the ceiling and let your mind dangle in the atmosphere, or to pull yourself and move your body to the churning rhythms. The choice is yours, DIANA won't judge.