Diane Coffee - Internet Arms - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Diane Coffee - Internet Arms

by Howard Scott Rating:9 Release Date:2019-04-19
Diane Coffee - Internet Arms
Diane Coffee - Internet Arms

The opening of Diane Coffee’s new album, “Internet Arms”, starts with a deceiving synth line reminiscent of “Major Tom” from thirty years ago. Then, the drum machine kicks in to slightly alter the mood just before a tsunami of sound blasts into the speakers. And it is a good sound. Melodic, fun and polished to a mirror finish. By the time Shaun Fleming’s vocal appears, the hook has already been set for a 13 cut display of music with something for everyone.

Fleming is the performance artist behind the Diane Coffee name, and his rise to stardom has had some unusual stops along the way. He started as a young boy doing voices for Disney cartoons. That lasted until puberty began to rearrange the vocal cords, so competitive skateboarding became next on the resume. At the same time, Fleming was collaborating and drumming for 60’s throwback band Foxygen, which was made up of friends from his high school days. From there, raw demos produced during Foxygen down times found their way to Western Vinyl, who insisted Fleming release them as a solo project. Thus, the Diane Coffee phenomenon was born.

This is the third full-length recording for Fleming, and every one has shown a continual maturation and refinement that culminates in “Internet Arms”.

As mentioned, the opener reaches out and grabs, but the second cut, “Like A Child Does”, isn’t too far behind. Both tunes tell a lyrical story of power misused and less than great situations, but the musical background is so solid you really have to be listening to pick up on the downer message.  Just listen to the “ooh's" and overdubbed backing vocals on “Child”. This cat is different.

A 22 second quick instrumental leads into “Stuck In Your Saturday Night” which has a 70-80’s soundscape of sugar that would have been right home being performed by a group like The Bay City Rollers. Some outstanding keyboard work (a constant throughout the disc) gives this one a gorgeous feel to a throwback age when music was much more innocent. While I’m not usually one for teeny-bop syrup, this one is done well enough to just be pure fun.

Toward the middle of the recording, the songs start to take on a more ominous and dark tone. It starts with “Simulation” which uses a pipe-organ choral background to paint a picture of an AI world with issues all its own. Fleming pulls all the vocal tricks on this one, using Peter Frampton style voice distorters to echo the verse, while the chorus is inhabited by deep baritones that stand in sharp contrast to the upper register lead vocal. It is quite a change in gears from the pure pop the album opens with. “ I can even simulate you tonight” cries Fleming, and we are pretty sure he means it.

From there, title tune “Internet Arms” opens with an end-of-the-world blast of sound voiced over by a sinister sounding voice reminiscent of an 80’s Apple commercial. There is a militaristic feel here even though the bouncy vocals do their best to balance the oncoming dread.

Short instrumental “War” leads into “Doubt”, which continues the black mood, at least at the beginning. The song starts again with a pensive, western desperado vibe, but then erupts into a chorus of sonic beauty that breaks through like a sunbeam illuminating a stormy horizon. It transforms the song, and changes the mood of the rest of the record. Rarely will a chorus of a single song cause such a sudden shift, and it is  an outstanding achievement. I  ended up absolutely loving the tune I started being rather ambivalent about.

Fleming’s incredible vocal skills set Diane Coffee apart from another million bands out there making fine electronica. This guy can handle anything from an Elvis growl to a Gwen Stefani yip, and sometimes in the same verse. “Work It” is such a tune, again starting on the lower range of the spectrum of sound before blasting into a cornucopia of aural delights. The vocal gymnastics on this one are dizzying to take in, and tell an optimistic story of being who you want to be, no matter what. The instrumental interludes also bring a tasty bit of variety to a masterfully composed piece of music.

From there, we get another Fleming surprise, as “Good Luck” uses a Beatles-esque la-la background to paint a picture of working life in America. It ain’t as pretty as the melody makes it sound.

“Lights Off” is the ultimate tour-de-force of Fleming’s vocal talents. He is all over the place, climbing musical ladders and then bungee jumping into a landscape of pounding bass, throbbing percussion and ever expanding and contracting synth effects to ultimately emerge victorious.

The album ends too soon with “Company Man”, a much more laid back and mainstream melody of longing. Sometimes it is hard to tell where Fleming’s voice stops and the synthesizers start, and sometimes they blend together as if pre-ordained. It is a fitting ending to a masterfully constructed collection of compositions.

Fleming has garnered quite a reputation for his live shows, which feature unbounded energy, costumes to make Elton John green with envy and an androgynous persona that keeps everybody guessing. Behind all the facepaint, taxi-cab yellow hair and glam-rock outfits, however, is a consummate musician who knows his way around a tune, and has the vocal gifts few possess to enhance them. “Internet Arms” has enough variety at hand to please just about anyone who appreciates fine music.

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