Shine on You Crazy Diamond
Most musicians understand the importance of changes in volume and get audiences to listen carefully to quiet, intimate moments and then contrast these with loud sounds to convey bigger and bolder emotions and thoughts. That’s par for the course. But My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden takes things further. She employs marching band drums and horns one minute and then her solo voice the next without ever changing the intensity of the music. The range of volume may change, but the passion never does.
Because Worden’s vocals are so operatic and the fact that she has her roots in classical traditions, one might mistake her compositions for concertos. But she’s not Charles Ives, despite the populism of the marching band approach. My Brightest Diamond grounds her sound in modern rock and avant-garde traditions on This Is My Hand. She borrows from a myriad of sources to create sonic spaces in which to dwell, kind of like prog rock without the pretentiousness or pseudo-seriousness of the effort.
Worden layers her sounds for emotive effects and to make a point. She wants the listener to experience feelings and ideas at the same time. That’s what the primacy of sound does, as she explains in the wondrously defiant “Before the Words”. The song begins with a heartbeat, presumably the first thing one hears in the womb (I wonder whether the embryo hears the louder and stranger sounds of gastric digestion with its panoply of rumbles and growls more than the pulsating blood, but that goes beyond the topic here). The opening verse begins, “Before the words there was the voice / before the verse there was the sound / before the form there was the music / before the pen and paper there was the / hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.” Indeed! We learned about rhythm from our mother’s pulsating blood. We heard our fathers and others talk before we knew what they were saying. We discerned music in the everyday before we knew what it was and it was everywhere. And it was good.
On this tune and others, Worden uses cascading tempos to build climaxes and then lets them fade and begin again. Nothing is ever static, nor is it predictable. On the best tracks, such as “Pressure”, “This is My Hand”, and “I Am Not the Bad Guy”, the music and lyrics go in unexpected places and then join up later to form a type of resolution accompanied by grand statements like “All of this pressure’s making diamonds,” “This is my aim, to love,” and “This is what love feels like.” The pronouncements work because the music impressively imprints a grandiosity to what is sung. By time a song ends, one has undergone the journey from ignorance to familiarity accompanied by a sense of Déjà vu as if one already knew what one never has known.
My Brightest Diamond works with a rich palette. Worden can make one afraid and then powerful, meditative then active—not to mention happy / sad and other more simple contradictions—with the whole point of showing these seemingly contrary elements as part of a continuum and equating them with quiet / loud elements. Think of a painter who uses bold colors as camouflage that both hides and reveals. You think you see the shapes and distinctions that at first seem so obvious, but then everything blends in and makes you question what you see. Worden invokes this image herself in a different way on “Looking at the Sun” when she sings, “Wrestling with a double mind / Like two horses pulling both sides / If I could put one down / Maybe straight I’d run / ‘Cuz I always see the shadows / When I’m looking at the sun.” H’mm, when staring directly into the solar ball My Brightest Diamond finds darkness? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But the pressure of opposites can be a strong enough force to create bright and shiny diamonds. That’s kind of what happens on this album
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