Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Album Review: The Diamond Center - 'My Only Companion'

My Only CompanionThere's something about Texas -- be it the vast expanses of open desert, the sweaty hundred-degree nights, or the accessibility of wooded hill country topography -- that encourages the creation of raw, all-natural, animalistic psychedelia. Austin, afterall, was home to one of the first psychedelic movements; Janis Joplin was strumming a guitar in the Texas capital long before Haight-Ashbury knew of her. And the 13th Floor Elevators popularized the genre's name with their 1966 album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.

Fast-forward to 2009, and there's still something in the water that makes Texas a hotbed for acid-drenched guitar tones, peyote-trip percussion, and ethereal reverb-heavy vocals that blend into the soundscape like another instrument. A fine example of the genre's current strength and vitality is Lubbock's The Diamond Center, led by songwriters Brandi Price and Kyle Harris. The band recently released its second album, My Only Companion, which sounds kinda like if The Velvet Underground was lost in the desolate West Texas desert living off of cacti and mushrooms. It's too bad they live in Lubbock because The Diamond Center's style and aesthetic would fit right in on Red River with local garage-psych acts like Shapes Have Fangs or Woven Bones.

If you're into that smokey psychedelia that local psych heroes The Black Angels helped bring back a few years ago, then you'll probably be infatuated with this album from the first echoing pound of the bass drum. This album is a little more raw and less polished than anything the Angels have done, but that might be a good thing depending on your point of view.

But would the average listener dig The Diamond Center? Hard to tell. If you can get past the methodical brooding of the opening track "Wtt", you'll be rewarded with the supremely catchy sitar-sounding guitar riffage and buffalo-stampede percussion of "Dos Fridas" (listen below). And the quick handclaps, punchy guitar twang, and aaah-ohs of "The Deer Pistol" make the song the album's best-suited for a mainstream audience.

"Dos Fridas"

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After the midway point, My Only Companion becomes less of a psychedelic tour de force as it mellows out into an earnest singer-songwriter album where the psychedelic elements become the condiments, rather than the meat. But that doesn't make the album any more accessible. Three of the last four songs clock in past the five-minute mark. Softer and gentler, yes, but pop songs these are not. Forlorn guitar strums, soft tambourines, and Price's mournful howling of lines like "this time, I won't follow" make the songs a compelling listen. But if you're in the mood for more of the uptempo rockers from the first half of the album you'll be disappointed.

Despite the slow fizzle ending, My Only Companion is a solid addition to the collection of any psych music fan. Admittedly, though, it might not be accessible enough for your little bro or sis curious about one of Texas' most storied genres. Start 'em off with The Black Angels' Passover instead. Baby steps.

The Diamond Center will soon move to Virginia, but word has it they might play a few more Texas shows before leaving the Lone Star State. They're great fun live. Check them out if you can. You can find My Only Companion at CD Baby. Visit the band on MySpace.

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