Diamond Rings: Reaching for a higher plane with Free Dimensional

The lack of pretension on Special Affections, Diamond Rings’ debut full-length release, is one of the things that makes it so special. There is a palpable and almost desperately anticipatory feeling to the songs – they are unapologetically boisterous, exultant and celebratory… and it is those same qualities that make Special Affections unique, ambitious, and utterly without deception.


While some of those same feelings and themes are evident on Diamond Rings’ follow-up album Free Dimensional, the overall package doesn’t capture the same sense of direction and propulsion of the earlier work. It has great moments, but there is a sense of disparity, which seems to contribute to the lack of a wholly unified vision. Diamond Rings’ founder and frontman, John O’Regan, is not your typical musician. In fact, his forays into music didn’t begin until relatively late in life, at a time when some would say he’d be too old for a viable career in music. The history of O’Regan’s rise to fame is well documented, as are his debilitating struggles with Crohn’s disease. O’Regan wrote some of his earliest songs for Special Affections during a lengthy hospital stay. And what made that record so special, transformative and vibrant was O’Regan’s sense of spirit, strength of will, and determination.


With the release of Free Dimensional, O’Regan obviously has his sights set on a much more ambitious artistic goal. He skillfully appropriates and uses the idea of “Rock Star” in the most theatrical and grandiose sense – think David Bowie or Bono or any other musician who realizes that longevity in the music industry means having to constantly evolve and move forward. O’Regan’s penchant for elaborately designed wardrobe and choreography during his live shows also confirms his firm grasp and understanding of the “show” side of the music business. O’Regan’s songwriting style is reminiscent of earlier glam pioneers, in that he is also very much tied into the visual aspect of performances.

As his recent appearance on Late Show with David Letterman will attest – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v33g1jK4xFY – that performance showcased the Diamond Rings’ penchant for grand, energetic choruses, sweeping hooks, and solid musicianship. O’Regan’s rhythmic, almost baritone vocal approach is brim full of the darker, more visceral elements of 80s New Wave music, and reminds me of singers like Lou Reed and Peter Murphy, whose use of phrasing, timing and drama worked extremely effectively.

Free Dimensional is definitely aimed for larger crowds, and with its high-energy grooves and catchy hooks, it will certainly attract its share of new listeners.

Produced by Canadian audio-production wunderkind Damian Taylor (Arcade Fire, Björk, U.N.K.L.E.), Free Dimensional lays out O’Regan’s evolving artistic credo and songwriting approach. His themes generally revolve around the ideas of self-empowerment and individuality, and the record’s debut single I’m Just Me is an energetic, unrestrained ode to (and celebration of) those themes.

O’Regan’s musical talents aren’t simply constrained to his keyboard-playing prowess, as he deftly shows on another standout track on the album, Runaway Love: O’Regan can definitely write a kick-butt rock-riff with the best of them. The production on this record wisely tries to showcase Diamond Rings’ intricacies and playfulness, while giving the songs the opportunity to breathe and shine on their own. There are heavy and obvious New Wave influences on Free Dimensional, as well as splashes of R&B, and even an older, more adult-radio sound on songs like Stand My Ground. But while this versatility is interesting, and even sometimes fulfilling, it eventually detracts from the overall cohesiveness of the record. It seems that a tighter rein during the production phase would have better served the artistic goals, if for no other reason than to draw a connecting line between its disparate elements.

There are some odd musical choices on this record: long instrumental noodly-bits, coupled with O’Regan’s almost deadpan rap style in some songs, and even a strange angularity to the music and production. And while this type of New Wave/rock hybrid doesn’t typically lend itself to much improvisation, the rigidness and polish on some of these songs hold them back when they should be running loose. O’Regan’s lyrics on this album are sometimes nonsensical and seemingly haphazard, and at times sacrifice lyrical content for the sake of a catchy hook. Not to say that this album isn’t chock full of energy, life and possibility. It was O’Regan’s honesty and willingness to discuss extremely personal events, such as his struggles with his own identity and sexuality, that gave his previous effort a greater and more profound depth than it would otherwise have had, and while Free Dimensional is an ambitious record, and certainly has its high points, it doesn’t necessarily always hit the mark. There are certainly plenty of interesting arrangements, catchy hooks and grooves on the album, as well as some solid performances, but the lack of lyrical substance sometimes makes it a thin listening experience.

Overall, Free Dimensional is a promising follow-up with some very solid moments, and if it’s any indication, Diamond Rings certainly have big things planned for the future.


Diamond Rings will be at Ritual on Friday, December 7. Doors open at 8pm.

You can get tickets at the door, or in advance from: http://www.ticketmaster.ca/Diamond-Rings-tickets/artist/1500851

Free Dimensional is available through Secret City Records: http://www.secretcityrecords.com/artists/diamond-rings

and the Diamond Rings website: http://diamondringsmusic.com/