Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shara Nova’s (a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond) begins her fifth full-length studio album with a dance track, appropriately called “It’s Me on the Dance Floor”. The avant-garde artist tells her audience that she’s all alone. She wants the lights turned off. She’s not looking for a partner. The Michigan musician makes it clear that she’s on a journey of self-discovery. She uses physical movements to explore her body and soul and doesn’t care if anyone’s watching. But of course we are listening to her contemplative self. This dualism between inner dialogue and connecting to others provides the album’s tension. We are invited to just listen to the surface of the songs or to be voyeurs into something deeper.
As someone who takes the moniker My Brightest Diamond knows, a glittering exterior offers its own rewards. Nova has a crystalline voice that she frequently uses in sharp, angular ways. She will start a musical phrase with a loud jolt, and then bite of the end of the phrase with her mouth shut tight in silence. She will use a guitar, synths, and a programmed drum for sonic effects or to create hard beats. The results sonically resemble snow-capped mountains with peaks and valleys, not to mention the threat of a landslide.
Her warm and personal lyrics often offer a contrast to the cold exteriors of the songs. She croons stanzas such as “I feel a hand holding me upright / Let’s take the comfort we can get tonight” (“Sway”), “Every love I had, I bless you, thanks / I don’t take it back” (“Another Chance”) and several other lines and tracks that suggest physical intimacy. She sings them more in reflection than in the act itself, but the heat comes through nonetheless.
This model oversimplifies Nova’s songs, which often traverse into odd musical structures and mixed sentiments before completion. And while most of the material is inner-directed, there are several cuts that look outward such as the ode to the death of Trayvon Marton, “You Wanna See My Teeth”. It’s a chilling track filled with howls, sirens, panting, and an insistent beat that simultaneously suggests fear and disobedience—a palpitating heart, being chased, and finally, a void.
The oddest moment on this idiosyncratic record occurs at the beginning of the second song, “Rising Star”. It’s just a small snip from what sounds like a Motown 45 such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “Mickey’s Monkey”, but the Detroit-based Nova has recreated it here and slightly altered the phrasing so that one hears the crowd noise before (instead of after) the introduction. The recall of a different musical era on such a contemporary disc suggests the past is always with us, at least on a personal level. Later in the song she launches into a repeated chorus of “You think it you, you make it / You dreamin’ awake yet?” backed by a gospel type choir. As the track’s title suggests, Nova rises from her sleep to actualize her visions, but it’s not clear if this all happens in her imagination or reflects reality. The point is that this doesn’t matter as “dreamin’ awake” is its own reward.
A Million And One displays My Brightest Diamond’s experimental range. The individual cuts sometimes rattle against each other discordantly as a way of bringing attention to the separate songs. That’s good, but there is something peculiar about the way in which the album doesn’t cohere. She literally ends the record with “White Noise”. It’s an odd song that sounds like what would happen if you stuck a Hall and Oates single in a blender. I’d prefer my musical concoctions straight up over ice, but can appreciate the sophistication of a cocktail.