Diane Birch: Speak a Little Louder

For those that do not bother to pay much attention to lyrics or melodic variation, this album will kick butt.

Diane Birch

Speak a Little Louder

Label: S-Curve
US Release Date: 2013-10-15
UK Release Date: 2013-10-15

Diane Birch’s much celebrated debut disc, Bible Beat had a rootsy, Americana vibe. Critics praised her combination of original thought and traditional atmosphere and declared her a musician to watch. Speak a Little Louder has completely different sound. The Michigan-born global traveler now works a more modern rock groove. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just be forewarned. Lovers of the first album may be shocked by the difference, but artists should be encouraged to experiment, change, and grow.

Birch has an earthy and ethereal articulation, somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Nick’s Fleetwood Mac material. The singer-songwriter passionately croons of love and life using everything from dubstep beats to her solo piano playing to accent the emotionalism of her voice. Her vocals suggest dust and wonder, experience and naivety, the ache of one who yearns for something not within reach and the satisfied grin of one who has made it. On tunes such as “Lighthouse”, one can hear the smudge of everyone from Rihanna to Adele, Florence Welch to Kate Bush, on different sections. Birch reveals how much she has learned from listening to the radio since her initial release.

However, Speak a Little Louder has two major flaws: her mostly self-penned words and music. For the most part, the lyrics could generously pass for doggerel. One could easily site examples of triteness. Consider this chorus, which would be more appropriately crooned by an '80s hair band than a contemporary act.

”Oh, we don’t know where we’re running to

We don’t know what we’re running from

Baby we’re just holding on, holding on

Searching blind for a bridge to cross

Reaching out for a soul to trust

Baby, we’re just holding on, holding on to diamonds in the dust.”

Birch makes the connections between the clichés in her voice so that the apparent contradictions (running/holding, searching for a bridge/reaching for a soul, diamonds/dust) are mixed together to seem meaningful. But they are not. This is empty language.

The music itself suffers from the same problem. There’s a sing/song sameness to the melodies that belies the different orchestrations. One could read the lyrics above and easily guess how the song goes, not because the words are so tuneful but because it is so predictable. The production itself is quite good. The music has a big sound, thanks in part to producer Homer Steinweiss who co-wrote three of the songs, including the title track. Steinweiss makes up for the album’s deficits by featuring Birch’s extraordinary voice in a combination of instrumentations. For those that do not bother to pay much attention to lyrics or melodic variation, this album will kick butt.

Matt Hales (Aqualung) co-wrote the best cut, the cryptically titled “UNFKD”. You can guess what it stands for, but the song’s conceit is a bit more imaginative than one might expect. The cut also allows Birch to sing in a number of different dramatic styles, which she capably handles. The lyrics may be no more than an excuse for Birch to showcase her quiet range, but that’s okay.

Nevertheless, Birch opens the album by reminding herself of the importance of speaking louder (to a tune reminiscent of classic Supertramp). Volume is never the problem here. She makes herself heard no matter if she sings softly or forcefully. Whether she has something to say, well, that’s another matter.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.