February 18, 2014
LISTEN ON SPOTIFY: Diamond Youth, 'Shake' EP
RATING: ** 1/2 out of 4
Is "Shake," the third EP from the alt-rock quartet Diamond Youth, a 15-minute detour or the future sound of the Baltimore band?
The question is at the center of this half-cohesive, half-scattershot record. And the fact that Diamond Youth approached its label this past spring about recording songs that were, as Topshelf Records' website says, "totally random and might not make sense entirely," only complicates the matter.
What's clear is "Shake" finds Diamond Youth moving even further from the brighter and poppier sounds of its first EP, 2011's "Don't Lose Your Cool," and more toward a forceful sound driven largely by chunky guitar riffs. Diamond Youth has always been part Weezer, part Queens of the Stone Age, but the latter is noticeably more dominant on "Shake."
The shift feels swift and immediate on "Red Water," a feedback-drenched opener that feels indebted to surf rock, Foo Fighters and the stoner-rock phase of Arctic Monkeys. "Can't Shake the Feeling" -- with its repetitive, earworm hook and screeching, reverb-heavy guitar solo -- sounds plucked from an episode of the '90s MTV show "Alternative Nation." And anyone who has ever loudly jammed with friends in a garage will appreciate the brash punk burst of the 49-second-long "Maryland Ice Cream."
The four members -- singer Justin Gilman, guitarist Sam Trapkin, drummer Brendan Yates and bassist Daniel Fang -- are spread out across the country, including Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles. (The band was first known simply as Diamond before the act changed the name for legal reasons.) While the band reportedly writes songs by sending one another partial recordings over the Internet, the distance is not detectable here. And "Shake," which was recorded locally with producer Brian McTernan over two weeks, benefits from cohesive production.
But there is something unsettled about "Shake" as a whole. The issue is Gilman's vocals, which are technically strong but missing the grounded, melodic punch of the band's previous records. Too much of his singing on "Shake" occurs in a floating falsetto that could draw comparisons to Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. After three years and three EPs, Diamond Youth sounds like a band with a clouded sense of identity. The talent is apparent on "Shake," but the direction is not. -- Wesley Case