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Michael McBay

0103 - Michael McBay

In the super-competitive world of commercial pop music, Michael shepherds new work of artist-groups, from idea to maturity.

Diamonds - a Review

From Michael McBay ‘76 in L.A., , a piece new this year called Diamonds was released carrying a multi-faceted personality completely deserving of its name.

When new pop music hits distribution these days, the enormity of choice in the field that it enters is about both what the listener has already heard before and what they can hear at this same time.

Imagine a work that has figured out a way to blend the pulsing of EDM, the glam of ‘80s studio orchestration, the seamlessness and urgency of KPOP, vocals fit for a stadium, and fusion-power lead guitar. In supporting the emotional flow of the lyrics, these many effects are mixed and alternated with precision timings that highlight a kaleidoscopic turning of depths and moods.

In so much of what we can hear today, modern production tech and instruments give a level of sonic quality that is orders of magnitude higher than what we were used to hearing even among the most well-known groups decades ago. With older tools, best efforts were more difficult, to completely marry notes and sound effects across all of the instruments and get “a whole greater than the sum of its parts”.

Now, although Circle the Earth, the group performing Diamonds, is still “breaking”, its production work here is readily able to maximize most or even all of the ambitions that were in those older efforts. As a result, the selectivity used in crafting the work is even more important to creating its distinct character.

Pop music rarely dominates attention in the way it did in the past. The digital world has allowed all genres to multiply their influence and audiences, and even more importantly to influence each other, so that hybrids and innovation are absolutely routine expectations rather than exceptions.

At the same time, as commercial production ramps up higher, it is de rigeur to ship a video interpretation of the song with the music, so it becomes ambiguous as to whether the music’s first impression will stand up later without the visuals, or needed the imagery for its impact. We wanted to test this out, so we listened without the video the first time around.

One of the most important things about pop is that it always targets creating a memory and bringing it back at any time. Even without paying close attention to it, and as we found, without the video, Diamonds triggers strong emotional flashbacks in the way it takes the era that bridged late stage LP pop into the first years dominated by CDs -- and powers it up to nail those feelings down all over again.

For some listeners who are too young or too narrow, the impact will be different because its styling will be more new to them, or it may seem to call for a kind of irony-free excitement that doesn’t rate as being cool. But for others whose listening is either very seasoned or very expansive, Diamonds can interrupt whatever was going on and grab hold from start to finish.

More from Michael McBay:

Could Be You, Circle the Earth

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