Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review of Dia's "Bruises"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website.

Review Summary: Dia has released a strong LP of dreamy, ethereal pop, in what might be a make-or-break album for her career.

For a relatively young woman, Dia Frampton (or simply Dia, as she now seems to be calling herself) has had an interesting musical career. At the age of 17, she and her older sister formed Meg & Dia, an indie-pop unit that garnered some buzz and some critical success over the course of four full-length studio albums and a number of EPs. In 2011, she became a contestant on the initial season of NBC's reality talent competition show The Voice, where she was selected by country singer Blake Shelton to join his team. She eventually wound up finishing second overall in that contest. Later that year, she released her first solo album, Red, which shot to the top spot on Billboard's Heat Seekers chart, and also hit #106 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The next year, her sister Meg officially left the band, so Dia eventually formed a new band, Archis. (I know they liked to stylize the name as ARCHIS, but I don't do all caps). They put out a pretty decent self-titled EP in 2015 that nobody seems to have listened to (it has all of three ratings on this website, and one of those is mine). So now it's 2017, and Dia has just released her second solo album, Bruises, and the way the music industry works, this might be a make-or-break album for her career. Personally, I'm hoping for "make".

Dia has always had a pretty voice, very smooth, and abundantly easy on the ears. She also has one of those eternally young-sounding voices. I was surprised to learn that she actually turns 30 later this year, as she has that permanent teen-pop sound -- if she was an actress instead of a singer, she'd be one of those who'd constantly be playing the role of the smart high-school good girl who successfully escapes the masked pyschopath and gets to live at the end of the movie. One of the pleasant surprises about Bruises, though, is that here, she's doing some different things than she did in the past.

The first track on the album, "Hope", signals a slight change of direction right from the get-go. It's a slow, celestial song that gradually builds in volume, as Dia wordlessly vocalizes to orchestral music. It almost sounds like the intro to the grande finale of a Celtic Woman concert. The feeling here is triumphant, and, yes, "Hope"ful, which sets the mood for the rest of the LP. Don't get me wrong, we're still traveling in the realm of pop throughout Bruises. But compared to the music she's released in the past in her various manifestations, this album is a little more ethereal -- it's softer, quieter, and definitely less inclined towards sugar-pop.

"Golden Years" was the first single released from the album, but it didn't chart at all, and it's not even close to being the best song here. I much prefer "Gold and Silver", another slow, dreamy song that seems to be partly about her youth, and partly about her time making music with Meg. "We'll stay young forever," her sister promises, "We're gold and we're silver/So light." The song manages to convey the sadness the singer feels that those days have passed, while simultaneously celebrating that the experiences ever happened in the first place.

Another strong track is the simple love song "Crave". It's not the first song to compare love to an addiction, but it's catchy, and I like the way she raises her voice an octave midway through the chorus. Weirdly enough, it's one of two songs on the LP (the other is "Dead Man") that reminds me in places of some of the songs on last year's Andy Black album, The Shadow Side, which I also enjoyed a great deal. (It's especially weird since Black's album focused mostly on the darker emotions, while Dia's is wistful in places, but mostly upbeat).

Frampton is backed on Bruises by the gentle sounds of the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, which provides mostly soft string sounds and understated piano music, helping to give the album its delicate atmosphere. As for her singing, it remains consistently agreeable throughout.

As I said earlier, if Dia was a film actress, she'd be the clever, likable horror film girl who ends up surviving everything the killer can throw at her, and we, the audience, would be rooting for her throughout. The music industry can be even more vicious than a celluloid serial killer, and it has a much higher body count. But I think Bruises is a worthwhile pop album, so I'm rooting for her here just like I would be in the movie.

Rating:3.5/5 stars