After months in some kind of hibernation, at the whims of a pandemic that ultimately never truly went away, fans and friends of Brooklyn-based synth-pop act Diamond Field were able to gather in full force by the dozens at Night of Joy in Williamsburg for a night of good drinks, great music, and excellent company.
We gathered for the July 28 listening party for Diamond Field’s self-titled debut album. Though Brooklyn-based, New Zealand-born Andy Diamond’s project, formed in 2013, has been releasing singles since 2014, this is the band’s first full-length studio album after years of anticipation. It drew people from NYC synthwave, synthwave-adjacent, and synthwave-agnostic communities alike.
The opportunity to celebrate Diamond Field’s accomplishment was the main event, but another draw for people was a chance to just hang out with each other. There were some members of the NYC synth scene with which I hadn’t spent time in a couple years — hopes dashed for reunion last year with the rise of the pandemic. Diamond Field’s draw exceeds synthwave, though, and it was nice to see those people, too.
There’s something else to consider, though. Diamond Field’s self-proclaimed “21st Century ‘80s music” is a dish best served social. It iss catchy, emotional synth-pop you want to share with others. It’s more fun to sing or air-guitar with someone or many someones.
When the first few notes of the eminently catchy opener “New Situation (Feat. Nina Luna)” struck at Night of Joy, everyone let out a massive cheer. It was indeed a new situation for all of us. The pandemic isn’t over — it’s just changed — and so we’re all trying to figure out a way to have fun at events like this, while also keeping an eye out on the evolving variants that are catching on because of the unnecessarily unvaccinated people who haunt us.
It was nice to have fun again. It was also nice to finally hear a Diamond Field album.
“Is This Synthwave?”
The “Is this synthwave?” interrogatory is a ceaseless refrain through synthwave social media conversations these days. It stems from confusion over what synthwave is — especially, as with each passing year, it loses more of the 1980s-infused base from which it sprung more than 15 years ago.
But for Diamond Field, it’s a moot question when it comes to their music. That catchphrase Diamond invented that I mentioned earlier — “21st Century ‘80s Music” — far better sums up the music of Diamond Field than does “synthwave.” It’s a tagline an advertising copywriter wishes they conjured.
The work is far closer to typical ‘80s pop fare with some modern flourishes, than it is to the more dance-music-oriented foundations of most synthwave. There’s no four-on-the-floor, side-chained cuts on Diamond Field’s self-titled debut. And the songs certainly aren’t your standard (and now uninspiring) “Neon Grid Palm Night Drive 1984” fare. In fact, it’s not clear that the synthwave community is going to know what to do with this record — and that’s probably for the best at this point. It’s far better for Diamond Field to have created a legacy album that will endure any trends, rather than try to approximate whatever generic synthwave drivel gets a 1,000 Bandcamp badges these days.
But anyway, for Diamond this is the culmination of seven years of intense work. Although the record doesn’t include his popular “Neon Summer” cut from 2014 that featured Nina Luna (then known as Nina Yasmineh), it does carry on that spirit of well-structured and well-performed songwriting. It’s all vocal pop cuts that are tightly wound around a coil of immense professionalism and raw talent.
In a recent Zoom call ahead of the album’s July 30 release via Sofa King Vinyl and Luca Discs, Diamond told Vehlinggo he had an album in mind around the recording and release of “Neon Summer,” but he hadn’t kicked off any formal process.
“It was more just getting individual songs together, and hopefully, alongside those, I had a body of work together for an album as well,” he says.
And even though he had intended to release a full-length not long into the project, various things happened to delay the process. Diamond did a collaboration with BMX pioneer and synth-pop artist Bob Haro on the exquisitely catchy “Won’t Compromise” and then was doing remixes for other people and serving as bassist in multiple bands of various genres around New York.
He had one-off singles around there with Matthew J. Ruys (who’s on the album) for “This City” and Rat Rios for “Closer.” They were intended to be on the album, but as time passed it became clear he couldn’t just scoop up these songs and slap them on an album.
“I wanted the album to be all new material,” Diamond said. “I didn’t want to just tag on more of my old singles on to, what, six new songs.”
The other thing for Diamond to consider was the fact that virtually all of the 10 cuts have a different singer. It kicks off with Luna, followed by Ruys, Miriam Clancy, Nik Brinkman, Cody Carpenter, Becca Starr, Belinda Bradley, Chelsea Nenni, Kyle Brauch, and finally another Ruys appearance. He had to make sure that it still sounded like a cohesive record despite different people on the top line.
“I wanted the album to be all new material.”
Diamond says it fits together well, and I have to agree.
“I like to describe it as, it’s like listening to a compilation album from the same genre,” he says.
But one could also compare the record to the albums of Massive Attack or Chemical Brothers, who famously had a variety of vocalists on any given album. The latter had Bernard Sumner from New Order and Noel Gallagher of Oasis; and Massive Attack had Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins, Horace Andy, and Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl, among others.
“They all had these different vocalists, but the songs and the vibe were still Massive Attack or the Chemical Brothers,” he said.
Regular Vehlinggo readers will likely recognize some of the singers on the Diamond Field slate, but especially Carpenter. He’s made a name for himself with his frequent synthwave collaborations and his excellent prog- and synth-pop-influenced synth project, Ludrium. (Of course, he also works with his dad, John, and godbrother Daniel Davies on film scores and touring The Horror Master’s key film themes.)
“What Cody was doing on his own projects really stood out to me,” he said. “It had that prog-rock sound and no one was really doing that well. After I wrote the music for ‘Spills Like Love,’ I thought he’d be perfect for it, because he understands what this track is about.”
They worked on the track remotely mostly in 2017, when Carpenter was still living in Tokyo. Diamond did all of the music and, originally, Carpenter was set to just do the vocals. But then, something magical happened on what Diamond refers to as his “yacht rock song.”
“… He did the vocals and sent them to me and said, ‘I had this idea for a synth solo over the instrumental break.’ I didn’t ask him to do that, he did it,” Diamond said. “It added more of his personality into it.”
After that, he saw a great opportunity to blend Carpenter’s and Starr’s vocals. The latter, who fronts “It’s Your Time,” would “be a great counterpoint, vocally, against Cody, for the backing vocals,” Diamond says. “I think it made that track feel a lot more finished to me.”
All of that underscores Diamond’s philosophy toward choosing who he sought to sing on his tracks.
“What was a very important part of getting all the vocalists, was like, Who’s going to work on this track? What voice would work best? There’s no point in having a really great singer on a track that doesn’t really suit their voice, or their vibe,” he says.
Diamond picked up his first bass at 15 — mentors almost immediately tossing him on stage. Ruys was there alongside him. Although Ruys couldn’t make it to Brooklyn for the listening party, his voice resonated throughout the bar. It bounced off each conversation members of the synthwave, synthwave-adjacent, and Brooklyn music community were having with each other — some for the first time in what seemed like years.
As the last note of the Ruys-fronted closer, “Out Here For Love,” faded, there was much to celebrate but also one stark truth to face: much like Diamond Field’s music applies elements of the past to a modern experience, we all were trying to have as much fun as we would have pre-pandemic while fully aware that we must now overlay it with the realities of our pandemic-laden lives.
At least we had Diamond Field and collaborators Luna, Ruys, Clancy, Brinkman, Carpenter, Starr, Bradley, Nenni, and Brauch to help guide the way.
(Editor’s Note: Andy Diamond occasionally writes and shoots photos for Vehlinggo under the name Andrew B. White.)
You can order Diamond Field on vinyl, cassette, and download via Sofa King Vinyl’s Bandcamp. You can also find the album (including the instrumental version) on streaming platforms.
Don’t forget to pick up Diamond Field’s 5 Years collaboration with Dana Jean Phoenix