Canadian singer/songwriter Diamond Rings’ new album, Free Dimensional, is all about contradictions and living a life littered with incongruities.
The album opens with waves of heavily distorted echoing synth and a static-induced crackling house beat. A number of new overlays are quickly added, including a steady marimba backbeat and John O’Regan’s signature bottomless voice. These additions do not disjoint the song, but rather further excavate the song’s foundation to give the whole track a deep yet direct feel. O’Regan’s voice ascends through the layers of electronic pulse, creating an inimitable complimentary dissonance.
In I’m Just Me, O’Regan melodically but abrasively sings about his struggles with identity – sexual and social. He talks about being too scared to love and being “Afraid of my body / Or anybody / thinking of what I thought of,” casually making the connection between bodily shame and social anxiety. He finds solace in living in a way that doesn’t make sense to the social groupings that surround him. He likens the way he appears to the rest of the world to living a paradox: “Hold me underwater / Teach me how to breathe.” When O’Regan states, “I’m no son or daughter / I’m nothing, just me,” he is emphasizing his inability to fit into any kind of constructed label, socially or musically.
O’Regan’s reputation for transcending gender roles is a theme he deals with extensively in Free Dimensional. In the opening track, Everything Speaks, O’Regan sings: “I was born to be dissident / I was raised to be the same / I was taught to know the difference / In between boy and girl names,” presenting the contradictory bifurcations that echoed through his early life. The heavier rhythm of (I Know) What I’m Made Of has O’Regan presenting his own identity crisis as a journey of liberation from the outside world and his inner self-doubt through his matchless musical style. He defends his musical style as mirroring his own unique identity when he says “I’m controlling and my rhythm nation’s rolling over / Top of everything in town / Techno, pop, hip-hop, house, trance.” This fits with the style of the album, which refuses to be curtailed into a simple electro-pop classification.
O’Regan demonstrates his ability to adapt a wide variety of musical styles. Stand My Ground and A to Z have jumpy pop beats with cheesy sap-lyrics like “I want to be all I can be / I want to be your A to Z.” In All the Time, O’Regan moves between vocals that are flat and fast-paced to a puffed-up style that channels the very best of glam-rock, while in Runaway Love, a dirty guitar solo accompanied by background “oohs” connotes a distinct punk summertime single. Day and Night randomly contains a rap break that is aggressive but distinctly Canadian: “Paris to London to Berlin back to Toronto / Wherever I am, you know I can feel your heart glow.”
The driving bass and overarching synth chords of Put Me On and I’m Just Me convey the most sober and unsmilingly ambitious elements of the 80s – both pop and prog rock. These tracks connote the sincere but banal love songs of the early pop era, with lines like “So take my hand and get behind the wheel / And let me give you everything I feel,” but then douses them in an abrupt sense of realism with O’Regan’s grim vocals. He speaks earnestly but abruptly with lines like, “Hold me in your arms / Until I’m blacker than blue,” calling for a romantic connection that is heartfelt but avoids any sense of poetic whitewashing.
In Hand Over Me, O’Regan reemphasizes the joy of living in paradoxes when he says, “I walk the line between fact and fiction / Define contradiction in every stride.” For O’Regan, the beauty is finding your place outside of normal and creating beauty in that space.