• Music •
Diagrams, Black Light
Full Time Hobby, January 2012
Black Light is the debut solo album from former Tuung singer and songwriter Sam Genders, now recording as Diagrams, a name that he hopes suggests the “crisp, minimalist pop music” that makes up this album. As a concept Diagrams works well, and though the ideas flow freely, and some miss the mark, the songs cohere thanks to Genders’ honeyed vocals.
“Ghost Lit” is a melancholy opener, with blippy synths and jazzy guitar overlaid onto a conventional indie-rock chord pattern. As it builds, Diagrams’ sonic hallmarks become clear: half-synthetic string orchestras, those ubiquitous Futureheads harmonies and an ear for sentimentality – Genders is never afraid to milk a melody.
Lead single “Tall Buildings” is more lively, its gentle funkiness and breathy strings recalling Prefab Sprout. It’s hooky too, and a commitment to pop melodies is what dominates this debut. More curious are some of the textures and forms that he employs: the initially skittish “Mills” seems to feature an uncredited guest appearance from Rick Wakeman, rocking out over the outro, while “Antelope”’s time signature changes suggest King Crimson playing chamber pop. Or perhaps The Minutemen with Peter Gabriel on flute. This is the most charming song on the record, and its quickly-changing, concise arrangement rewards repeat plays. This fractured danceability gives way to the easy sway of the title track, powered by the Graceland-esque rhythms popularised by Vampire Weekend, and now adopted by every second indie band. We’re in familiar territory, but it ambles along well enough, propped up by those ear-catching synths and a hummable refrain.
“Animals” occupies much the same sound-world– all palm-muted Telecasters and boomy toms – but it’s set in 7/4, and the bridge sounds like Aphex Twin. Sadly though, this oddness fails to fully counteract the sugary sweet refrain “I never believed in love ‘til now”, and when everything collapses into the sound of a brass band, it’s all a bit too much. “Peninsula”, however, is an entirely lovely closer. It’s driving, it’s sentimental and it does sound a bit like Elbow, but the conclusion thrills as the drumming grows ever more frantic and a discordant synth threatens to overwhelm those “uh-oh” vocals.
A likeable, tune-packed debut then, that marries eloquent rhythms to a glossy, bells-and-whistles production – Genders has crafted a winsome, eclectic album, unified by his mathematical concept and, if you can forgive its tweeness, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
Mike Smith plays and teaches guitar. He is studying for an MA in Music at Oxford Brookes University.