There is nothing subdued about Diamond Rings and the debut record Special Affections, which after getting some attention in its initial release is seeing a proper reissue from Astralwerks. Seeing Diamond Rings live reveals a one-man-show, and that one man is discovering that he is, in fact, a star. And not one of those faint stars that crowd the night sky, but a star of such brightness that it can turn night into day, a star so bright that he can share a stage with Robyn and Twin Shadow, alike. Sure, it is more than just the music that turns Diamond Rings into such a full-bodied experience (think glitter, eye makeup, choreography), but a revisiting of Special Affections reveals an album that can stand alone, that presents all the drama and emotional immediacy that his live show encompasses. In short, Diamond Rings is the total package, even when he doesn’t need to be.
In our recent conversation with Diamond Rings (real name: John O’Regan), the songwriter spoke of a desire to break out of the Canadien mold of being withdrawn and introverted, instead seeking to externalize everything into this larger-than-life entity. Through this lens, Special Affections can be seen as nothing short of a complete success, but maybe not completely in the way O’Regan intended. While the record is filled with dancefloor-ready anthems (“You Oughta Know,” “Wait & See”), the most captivating aspect of Diamond Rings is how cold the warmth is. Sure, the synths are frequently bright (the carnival-ride bounce of “Wait & See”) and the choruses are often anthemic (the Deerhunter-ish refrain of “On Our Own”), but Special Affections is really bound by solitude.
From the get-go, O’Regan’s voice carries the listener to snow-covered streets and quiet barrooms. “Play By Heart” reimmagines some Phil Collins backing music with Matt Berringer on vocals, telling a story of heartbreak and reemergence, of loneliness and redemption. This theme reoccurs throughout the album, obviously on “On Our Own,” Diamond Rings’ current best song, and less obviously on “Give It Up,” which in turn longs for connection. But, the relative seriousness of O’Regan’s songs is balanced by a persona and over-all aesthetic that seems far away from genuine emotion and insight. But, in this seeming contradiction is where we often find great art, and it begs the question that because of the way an artist dresses or because there is something gloriously trashy about the way an album is produced, can we not take the overall sentiment of the words at face value.
And while this is interesting enough, perhaps the neatest thing about Special Affections is the potential of it. On “Something Else,” we get the fullest sounding and most polished track on the record, shedding any bit of homemade gloss that may be present on the rest of the album. And if Diamond Rings’ recent remix collection is any indicator, there is a movement to come in this direction for the artist, as more resources are allotted to him and he continues to shape both his own voice and his own style. Hopefully none of the charm of Special Affections is lost in the process, and the record is seen as more of a building block on which to add, rather than an early turn at which some distance is required. As the former, it is a great start to which greater things are implied, anticipated, and, eventually, expected. No pressure.