When nostalgic, a human mind flickers with images of moments and experiences from that individual's own past. Myself, I see countless hours glued to the Nintendo 64, and playing with Hot Wheels in the mud of our driveway. No regrets, either.
Sound, however, can stretch our nostalgic vision beyond our own years here on Earth, making it feel like we've been around individually for an eternity. It's an infinitely powerful storytelling tool that can capture the essence of a bygone era that we never lived in, yet with which we feel a special connection.
That's the magic of DIANA's sophomore release, "Familiar Touch". It is the Eighties, resurrected and given a shot of the modern avant-garde in the arm. Warm, gooey synths and succulent multi-layered tracks are the star of this record, and there's not a subpar number on it as a result. When the band responsible for 2013's "Perpetual Surrender" (featuring the transcendently beautiful title track that's an instant classic in my eyes) returned with this new record, it felt as if they hadn't changed their essence and personality to cater to trends. These guys just plain care about making great music.
This is the firm truth, for once you take a listen to "Familiar Touch", it indeed does evoke familiar sensations brought upon by DIANA's debut release four years ago. Definite standouts include "What You Get", which with its pounding drums and plucking electro-guitar chords wouldn't feel out of place on a Tears for Fears album. The chorus is vivid and shimmering — elevated by Carmen Elle's on-point vocals — but the actual soundscape is a character in itself that evokes the sensation that the instruments are equally important voices. This applies to much of "Familiar Touch", and it makes for a cohesive and impactful listen. Often I don't even notice that I've listened to the entire album several times on shuffle due to each track mingling so well with one another. Nothing feels out of place, even during the opening spoken segments on the ethereal "Miharu" which normally I'd detest. It just works here, from a storytelling perspective.
Another standout track is opener "Confession" with its groovy rhythm and hooks, accompanied by some fantastic lyrics and overall production. The band made the right decision in selecting this one to lead the journey listeners take when listening to the album. Other must-listens include the funky, brass-tinged "Slipping Away" and the majestic "The Coward" — the latter of which possesses some of Elle's most seductive and beautiful vocals (I consider it the band's equivalent to Goldfrapp's "Let It Take You"). I only wish it were twice as long.
"Helpless" is another wonderful number, evoking the sensation of being adrift in electro-spattered rainfall with an electronic thunderstorm echoing and cracking in the distant background. I could have done with more songs akin to "Perpetual Surrender" or the immaculate "Curtains" from the band's debut release, but one can't expect them to adhere to repeating themselves. The distinctive DIANA sound that I term "modern meets moment" is still very much present, albeit tweaked into a funkier, more retro-tinged sound that feels as if it had been locked in a vault for decades, waiting for the right band to present it.
The ironic thing is how floaty and dream-like the record is despite the lyrics for several tracks being brooding, deeply personal and deliciously dark. In actuality, this adds yet another layer of personality and depth to the project in typical DIANA fashion. It all feels so much more fleshed-out and positively human than many other albums of a similar soundscape or atmosphere. Particular standouts for lyrics alone are "Slipping Away", "The Coward", "Moment of Silence", and "Helpless", though you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason not to listen to the other tracks on offer here.
That's the brilliance of "Familiar Touch" — that rarely-achieved authentic modern worship of the Eighties merged harmoniously with the band's signature vocals, lyrics, and production. It makes me wonder what they'll be up to next. Honestly, to the band I say take your time. They respect sound as an entity and if you need proof of that, just take a listen to their music. A wonderful addition to any record collection. Carmen, Joseph and Kieran have outdone themselves here and I applaud their creative vision in regards to this record.
The sound contained within this record just takes you back there... even if you've never been. That's the power of great music. And if DIANA stops by close to you on a tour, do yourself a favour and just go. The music comes to life and you feel an even stronger punch of nostalgic solace when they hit the stage.
Autotune and plastic lyrics about selfies will never come close to what actually respecting this medium can achieve.