A Cultivated Diamond
Canadian musician Nicholas Thorburn — also known as Nick Diamonds — has played in numerous rock bands, including The Unicorns, where he combined angst ridden lyrics with upbeat musical compositions. While this paradox existed with his explorations into rock ‘n’ roll, Thorburn has said he is “wary of writing dance music.” Therefore, it comes as a bit of a surprise that his new album, City of Quartz —under the diamond stage name — is a dance pop record. What is even more surprising is how good it is.
Some albums open with a shorter track, imaginatively titled “Intro,” which is usually some vocal or spoken word piece to tell you how depressed the artist is and why they made the album. This album, too, opens with a shorter piece, but it diverts from the norm. There are no lyrics or spoken word. It is an all-instrumental piece signaling the record’s musical style and how it will unfold. It begins with an accordion-style synth melody that unfolds into a mid-tempo beat with slight quirks need careful attention to really catch.
“Where is the Elephant” and the single, “Bohemian Groove,” continue this trend. The former begins with clippings and snippets of newscasters reporting and a piano melody that could make anyone walk a little taller. The latter has an upbeat synth melody and tiny moments of strangeness, thanks to the scratching of records. It also has Thorburn’s signature melancholy lyrics, as he laments, “Like everyone else / I hate my job / So let’s go out late, looking for a fight.” It is one of the best tracks on the record. Another great song combines a jangly guitar part with a synth part that seems more at home as a sound effect for Star Trek. He calls it, “Something About the Moon.”
While all these songs are great and unique in their own way, the one to have on repeat is “Love is Stranger,” which recounts love as a sort of movie: “Don’t know my mark / Forgot my lines / Bad Actor / Love is Stranger.” It recalls “Clark Gable” by The Postal Service and is lyrically the strongest effort on the album.
Nick Diamonds’ City of Quartz is a cohesive, yet strange electronic album; something that is difficult to pull off, like cultivating a diamond in the rough.