If you looked only at Diamond Youth’s label-mates or the bands they tour with, your concept of these Maryland rockers would be horribly off. Knowing that the members originate from various hardcore projects (Terror, Trapped Under Ice, Down to Nothing), you may continue to make exceptionally incorrect assumptions about Diamond Youth’s sound. In reality, there is no way to pinpoint a genre for this quartet, and if you tried, it would be a long hyphenated mess looking something like “alternative-indie-rock-surf-grunge.” But their varying backgrounds, musical influences, and openness to mixing genres is what makes Diamond Youth really stand out. Taking risks pays off, and that is clearer than ever in their newest EP Shake.
Shake, released through Topshelf Records, opens up with “Red Water.” For someone who has never listened to Diamond Youth before, the vocals will be the most surprising element. The mellow singing transitioning into wavering is a technique that one might expect to find in a more shoegaze-type band. However, these falsetto-flecked vocals contrasting with the robust instrumentals make for a truly unique sound. In “Red Water,” the guitars start off with a gloomy surf-rock feel that gets heavier as time goes on. Fittingly, the vocals and instrumentals feel very much like waves carrying the listener through steady swells and peaks. While not the finest song on the EP, it sets a solid base for the stronger tracks to come.
A real gem from Shake is “Don’t Feel Real,” which slows down the EP in the best sense. The verses echo with deep calm, while the choruses lift up just enough to mark a contrast, keeping the entire feel of the song very smooth. It’s one of those songs where you keep expecting a clashing climax and explosion of guitar, but Diamond Youth avoid that predictability and deliver a truly original solemn track. “Don’t Feel Real” is perfect for spinning your partner around in your living room late at night, as Gilman’s vocals and the background “ooh-oohs” float through the speakers: “Living here is like a dream / Nothing is really what it seems.”
The best part of the album is the success of including starkly different songs that are still able to deliver outstanding cohesion. Yes, the tenor vocals and Queens of the Stone Age-esque vibes are fairly consistent, but even those variables allow a lot of room for experimentation. The band’s flexibility is best demonstrated in the fifth track from the EP, “Maryland Ice Cream.” This song picks up the pace in less than 50 seconds, providing your new soundtrack for completely losing it when no one’s watching. Here, the hardcore influence seems more prevalent, if only for the fact that it’s impossible to be entirely still when listening to the song. The accelerating guitars and quick, repetitive vocals ensure that “Maryland Ice Cream” would have been a key part of the Tony Hawk soundtrack had this EP debuted 15 years ago.
Despite the fact that Diamond Youth are spread out all over the country, they’ve made use of the golden age of iChat and email on cell phones to collaborate on songwriting – a tricky process that seems to have worked in their favor as the varying influences come together almost seamlessly in the finished product. This is a band that is nowhere near done growing, and we can only hope that they continue to be unconstrained in experimenting with their sound.