In a world currently dominated by millions of people with laptops creating music, one has a hard time finding the perfect blend of electronica and pop. Luckily, the hype behind Diamond Rings has brought John O’Regan to the forefront, just in time for him to drop his debut Special Affections. It’s clear that his sound might not be the most innovative, but one thing is for sure, it’s definitely well-executed, leaving listeners with an album to spin over and over and over again.
Beginning with “Play by Heart,” you get a slow intro, with some tribal drums filling in the space left by the electronic atmospherics. O’Regan’s deep voice, which often shifts tones, playfully discusses his heart-on-sleeve romance with a former lover. It establishes the mood of the entire record, walking along with personal retrospective lyrics and craft blended electronic pop. Still, “Wait and See” is where the album really begins to take off, using a little bit of guitar riffage, and heavier beats. The change in vocal tone, with additional layered vocals, during the chorus really brings the track home, offering up one of Special Affections best moments.
“On Our Own” keeps up the pace here, giving us more driving beats and blips, along with touches of orchestration to provide the record with a little more depth. The chorus here has a delivered hook, similar to something you might have heard on Julian Casablancas’ solo record. Surely this song will make you want to break into slow-dance mode with your buddies, shaking your hips and kicking up your feet. It leads right into “You and Me,” which is one of the more playful songs in this collection, but once again its a shift in the tone of the vocal that provides just enough differentiation to make Special Affections interesting. Simple beats and spoken-word delivery can wear you down, but John O. does well to twist in turn, whether it’s with his change in voice, or his carefully painted flourishes of additional sounds. One listen to his twenty second electronic-rap near the end of the song, with a raised voice to end it all exemplifies his willingness to take his songs beyond the average band.
Despite his best efforts, it does seem that Special Affections has the ability to wear you down, especially when the slow songs begin to evolve. Tracks like “Pre-Owned Heart” aren’t off songs by any means, yet they do get a touch redundant, as the extra touches present elsewhere seem to have dissipated. Don’t give up on the record though, as Diamond Rings still has more to offer you in songs like “It’s Not My Party,” a track filled with a bit of electronic haze, O’Regan’s voice, and it only picks up from there, though never quite going too far. The restraint showed here allows you to see how gifted a songwriter he is. And it all ends with “All Yr Songs,” the shortest track here, but it illustrates his range, giving off a bit more of a summery appeal, as opposed to the earlier slow-club bangers he fills the album with up until this point. As the song closes to an end, you’re probably noticing a smile on your face, noticing that you had fun listening to this track, and to Special Affections. Not a bad way to end a solid debut.
Download: Diamond Rings – All Yr Songs [MP3]