Band Name: Free Diamonds
Album Name: By the Sword
Best Element: An unconventional but wonderfully pleasing dance-rock album with loads of groove
Label: Deep Elm Records
By the Sword is a logical, if unexpected, follow-up to Free Diamonds’ debut There Should Be More Dancing. Where the debut was the sound of hyperactive party dancing, By the Sword is the sound of that same party mellowing out as the night goes on. Where There Should Be More Dancing is the adrenaline-fueled euphoria of doing 80 out of town on the beginning of the road trip, the follow-up is the calmer but no less exciting state of enjoying the long drive with friends.
This is not to say that the members of Free Diamonds have abandoned the complicated rhythms, incredible bass riffing and hyperactive chipmunk vocals that are their trademark. In fact, opener “Backpack Escape Plan” starts off with all the makings of a quintessential Free Diamonds song, until a harmonica enters the mix in the chorus. It fits surprisingly well, and aside from the jarring transitions, “Backpack Escape Plan” provides a pretty fit opener.
“Hugs and Kisses” follows, and it more properly establishes the tone of By the Sword. The snare-heavy beat follows the quick bass work, but it’s the acoustic guitar strum and burbling effects pedal that give the song away as definitely not a member of the There Should Be More Dancing canon. If it wasn’t obvious then, the girl lead singer REALLY proves it. But when lead singer Scott Anderson comes in during the chorus chanting “We’re all hugs and kisses/now there’s no hugs and kisses anymore!” it’s as jubilant as anything previously done. In fact, it may be the most infectious song melodically that the Diamonds have ever put together. The laid-back groove opens the door for the more ominous than party-hearty vibe of “Flamingo!” – “Flamingo!” segues nicely back into the vocoder-laden “Cobracabana.” “Midnight Rainbow” lays on the island vibe and actually emphasizes the lyrics (as in, they’re actually understandable for once!). And the album plows on and on, with every song revealing something new about Free Diamonds’ sound.
Not to be missed are the galloping and impassioned “A Herd of Elephants,” the laser-guided precision of “Jealous Panther” and the deceptively great “The Little Keyboard Song.” The album does get less interesting towards the second half, but all is redeemed by closer “My Boxing Days are Over.” In true “you-can’t-tell-us-what-we-can’t-do” Free Diamonds style, it’s a folk song. It’s a pretty great folk song, too. “My Boxing Days…” also clears something up – I’ve never been able to pin any comparisons on the vocal stylings of Scott Anderson, but when he slows down he sounds a tad like Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes. So now we have it: Free Diamonds is the Violent Femmes, triple-speed. Just kidding.
With By the Sword, the members of Free Diamonds prove that they do not comprise a one-trick pony. And even though this album is definitely calmer than its predecessor, its difference is what makes it succeed. By the Sword doesn’t try to repeat the sugar-rush that was; it gathers the best parts of that sound and adds in new elements. It will make you dance because of the grooves the band creates, and that’s totally awesome. Just as awesome as There Should Be More Dancing. And that makes Free Diamonds really fantastic.