Set & Drift
We Love You
wasn't going to write about Diefenbach. I really wasn't. Doing a review for a record you really, truly love is always tough, and I've made such a hash out of it often enough that I was determined not to ruin this one. Part of me struggled with the fact that we also write these reviews to let people know about the music we care about, but the cynical part of me retorted with the fact that, as a Danish band with no North American record deal, I wouldn't be making much of a difference anyways. My resolve was strong until I put Set & Drift on again while doing the dishes. By “Glorious,” the second track, I had to proselytize.
Because I do care about this record, more than almost everything I heard during 2005, and I can't stop listening to it. Diefenbach started as “brooding instrumental post-rock,” by their own admission, and they started that way to impress girls. Thankfully you couldn't tell now, as this album (their third) is comprised entirely of concise, melodic rock, burnished to a glowing sheen. Like Readymade, they manage the difficult trick of merging the different parts of their music into one unified whole; the epic sigh of “The Right One” or the blast of “Glorious” may be made up of multiple parts, but everything from the drums to the vocal harmonies are focused on the same point. It's not as if their sound is muddy or mushily mixed; just that when you are enjoying rather than analyzing this music its virtues do not consist in the kind of lean, taut, separated pleasures of a band like Spoon. Instead it is lush, glowing, Technicolor; drums piled next to drum machines, keyboards upon guitars, voice upon voice.
It's a sound I'm dangerously susceptible to, but Diefenbach are so good at it, I doubt I'm alone. They write extremely hummable choruses (“Glorious” alone deserves hit single status in that utopian just world we always talk about); they write great songs about unrequited love (“The Right One” is Seconds-worthy for the way the singer manages to inflect “If she takes what she wants and it is not me / Then she sets me free / It just came to me” with just the right mix of surprise, relief, and sorrow); and when they switch to something more hushed like the riot reverie of “The Police” or something much more distorted and rough like “Skyline” or “Favourite Friend,” it feels completely natural. Even the relatively bizarre falsetto twitches of “Bruising My Eyes” fit in just fine, and after a couple of plays you're probably going to be singing along.
Above and beyond the sonic touches, though (and they are myriad and captivating enough to suggest more bands should apprentice as instrumental outfits for a few albums), Diefenbach are even more agreeable for the atmosphere of Set & Drift. It's pretty easy to try to be a badass or some tortured artiste in a rock and roll band, but it's much harder to just come across as nice—or even worse, comforting, which Diefenbach kind of is. And yet they avoid the plague of wussiness which has been sweeping rock (i.e. anyone sick of Ryan Adams or Conor Oberst or whoever whining should be fine here); it's more like meeting up again with a good friend from high school and catching up than anything else. That this is the overwhelming emotional impression of these songs despite the fact that they're about things like a fear of mechanization (“Mechanical”), having fond memories of an ex who is trying to bash your face in (“Glorious”), regretting a lack of attention to someone you used to know (the sublime “Streetlights”), making sure you have enough lemons in case of tear gas (“The Police”), or trying to make sure you have a ride home when on a strange planet (“The Rocket”) is only more impressive; you get the sense Diefenbach could start writing about pretty much anything and remain loveable.
That they do all this in just under 44 near-flawless minutes is even more impressive. Diefenbach have a sound that partakes in everything from shoegaze to techno-pop to folk without ever sounding like anything but their own wholly natural style, and they write great songs. Which makes for an incredibly frustrating album to write about—what can you say, other than the songs here are great?—but one that demands you spread the word, no matter how hard that is.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-02-22