Supergroups seem like a simple formula for success, yet it’s one that often comes undone through a mix of egos and stylised points of difference. Alt-pop quintet On Diamond combine some of the cream of Melbourne’s indie scene without any such issues. On their self-titled debut LP, frontwoman Lisa Salvo’s torments of despair, dread and doubt sit at the forefront of eight intricately arranged songs that mirror the erratic nature of depression and anxiety. At times a confronting listen, there’s a pervasive tenderness that feels like the band is by your side through it all, making for a fulfilling listen.
Originally the extension of Salvo’s poetically penetrative solo work, On Diamond has since recruited a supergroup of sorts featuring members of Jaala, Grand Salvo, Jazz Party and Hannah Cameron. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Evelyn Ida Morris (Pikelet) assists with production. Every one of these musical minds are harnessed to imbue Salvo’s songwriting with elements that fans of their respective groups will instantly appreciate. The overarching result is a stunning collection of artistically nuanced songs that penetrate without pretension.
Inducing the listener into a soothing paralysis, “The Ocean Floor” is a perfect marriage of Salvo’s serenading with hypnotic rhythms. The lyrics only further the experience of surrendering to the swell and list of the of the sound waves as you’re drawn deeper into its mystery; “Let your eyes roll back in your head, the shedding of your former skin… oh don’t be frightened”. Interjecting snarls of guitar foreshadow darker times ahead as the closing minutes of sinister sounds resemble a horror film soundtrack.
The opening guitar riff and abstract drumming of “How” prove more of an alt-rock standard. Echoing The Drones, its chorus is unanticipatedly anthemic relative to the melange of quirky characters inhabiting the verses. Entangled harmonies bleed of euphoria whilst leaving an ominous aftertaste. Though grand in scale, Salvo’s unpretentious poetry anchors everything, cutting through hardest of all; “Your words fall on active ears, though they’re playing dead for you”.
On Diamond’s ability to match themes with music becomes more pertinent with each listen. “Poison Blood” is one such example with its twisted wrangle of perversely plucked strings reflecting the tortured soul of the narrator. Over the piece, guitars lurk and loom, embodying one’s inability to completely cast aside past trauma; “Can’t remember life before it, can’t relax and can’t ignore it”. There’s a special skill evoked in the grace with which these tragic sentiments are sung. They ease their way into your heart, slowly intruding the way a virus silently inserts itself into its host.
“Crying for It” is more downtempo, brought to life by the variety of synths that populate it. Within its airy arrangement, autotuned vocals add an artificiality to the narrator’s refrain of “my soul”. In what could pass as a Massive Attack B-side, scarce use of a bass synth hook makes its appearance in the closing stages treasured in a melodically miserly song.
The precipice of the record is in Salvo’s angelic falsetto soaring over the guitar grunge on “Light”. Starting with a circular bassline, the twisted guitar effects of bygone songs present themselves more starkly as the track builds into emotionally charged existentialism; “Is there really any light at the end of the tunnel?” As if there’s nothing left to lose in the desolation of this realisation, the explosive conclusion casts aside hopelessness, allowing an ascension to new heights.
Follow up “The Purple Palace” offers an emotional reprieve with its softer indie-pop aesthetic. Intended as an ode to the group’s recording space, it speaks of the importance in having one’s own creative and emotional fortress of solitude that’s as equally as eclectic as the person themself. Though not as memorable, its harmonies throughout the chorus yield a satisfying release following the tempered verse builds, showing the well-rounded styles the group is capable of producing.
Manic-depressive themes make a return on “Laughing in the Face of the Big Door”. Among a more complete working of the horror-driven sounds dotted across the record, Salvo goes on a spoken word soliloquy detailing her self-doubt and eerily ambiguous resolutions; ‘Is this the key I’ve been looking for, help me to find a way through, make it alright, is this the next step to take”. As ambient sounds bubble and boil, the entry of drums and bass elevate Salvo’s more melodic recitation of her initial refrain. Dark and heavy, it develops, via instrumental flares, into an enjoyable catharsis.
“Tether” slows things down for a measured conclusion. Crisp guitars coat the calming vocals to make for a soothing experience before a flash of guitars hint that disquiet still lingers. Under the veil of the dreamy delight is the potential for the underlying erratic episode to explode, however well tethered. The isolation of Salvo’s standout performance at curtains is apt, imparting a final lesson that bears enforcing in today’s current social climate; “we go up, we go down”.
On Diamond’s debut is a stunning achievement first time around for the group. Harnessing the talents of all involved to help elevate the soundtrack to Lisa Salvo’s precise poetry offers a listen whose devastating confrontation of dark themes is handled with the utmost care for the listener. It’s an album better heard in isolation than a background accompaniment to daily activities, just as much as any artwork should be.
On Diamond is released Friday 12th April via Eastmint Records