Bubblegum bass, hyper pop – whatever you call the futuristic, experimental sound crafted by the PC Music label, there’s no doubt that the genre has seen a sharp rise in the late 2010s.
The label was founded back in 2013 and pioneered a unique sound which exaggerated traditional pop tropes over artificial synths to a warm reception.
Charli XCX embraced the movement back in 2015 and hasn’t looked back, achieving critical acclaim with a duo of mixtapes released in 2017 as well as her latest album Charli released back in September. Scottish producer and PC Music affiliate SOPHIE received a Grammy nomination for 2018’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES and has worked with the likes of Madonna, Vince Staples and Flume. 2019 has perhaps been its biggest year yet with releases from the aforementioned Charli XCX, Dorian Electra, 100 gecs, Slayyyter and Caroline Polachek all pushing the sound in new directions. Hannah Diamond joins that list with the release of her debut studio album, Reflections.
Reflections is entirely produced by PC Music founder and producer A.G. Cook who has quite a rich history of working with Diamond. Originally a photographer and visual artist, Diamond had been collaborating with Cook on websites but when a vocalist dropped out of a session, the pair began working on music together.
A track from Reflections, ‘Fade Away’, was released all the way back in 2016. Hannah Diamond tackles a typical pop theme about losing a loved one and adds PC Music’s feel to it, making her voice icy and robotic and incorporating lyrics about the new digital era: “Wish we could talk things through / Wish I could click undo” and “I always thought I’d be / The picture saved on your screen.” The contrast between the melancholic lyrics and the upbeat electropop beat makes for a brilliant listen.
Despite extending the album rollout over three years, Hannah Diamond included all the music she released in that time period on the album, suggesting Reflections is an important project to her and she wanted it out a certain way. Almost half of the album was already out before the official lead single ‘True’ was finally released in late 2018.
The album runs approximately 40 minutes and is quite cohesive. All the tracks seem to follow a template which somehow doesn’t get old. Hannah Diamond pens sad love songs with a child-like innocence over glistening synths. Unlike contemporaries in the genre, her music isn’t as provocative or hedonistic, instead preferring a low-key, bittersweet touch. The lyrics aren’t too varied as she sticks to fawning over a lost lover. ‘Invisible’ is a sad party song about seeing your ex with someone else, ‘Never Again’ describes being used in a relationship and the subject matter of ‘Love Goes On’ can easily be implied from its title.
However, she manages to keep things exciting, usually through intriguing production choices. Reflections is very well-produced featuring smooth, slick beats with subtle touches to complement Diamond’s vocals. There are frequent vocal bursts and glitches which become necessary on her somewhat monotone voice. ‘The Ending’ sees Hannah Diamond describing an on and off relationship in her verses before the chorus explodes into appropriate repetitions of “going or gone” with warped vocoder effects.
The highlight of the record is ‘Concrete Angel’, a cover of Gareth Emery’s track of the same name. An emotional performance from Hannah Diamond is paired with some of Cook’s best production. The progressive trance production is replaced by muted synths and shimmering keys which thump behind the vocals before slowly growing into the mix. Halfway through the track after a voice note, Diamond’s vocals fade out before zooming back to normal. She continues to croon the chorus before static crackles and a ballistic explosion in the last 30 seconds or so.
Reflections is by no means a perfect record, suffering at times due to the similar sound of the whole project as well as the rather simplistic lyrics. Fans of PC Music will undoubtedly enjoy this record but new listeners may disengage and find Hannah Diamond’s deliberate lack of personality and the limited diversity in her songwriting boring. Overall, Hannah Diamond has produced a solid debut which proves that this brand of pop has room for emotional exploration and could soundtrack the next decade.