My Brightest Diamond
Bring Me the Workhorse
hara Worden was trained as an opera singer, and it shows in her virtuosic but beautifully controlled voice. Matched by a lifelong understanding of classical music, her debut as My Brightest Diamond propels her to the heights of Cat Power, PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom, and Tori Amos. While she is not new to the scene, Worden has more or less commanded the pioneering originality and creativity of vision of those indie heavyweights in the space of one album.
The foundation of the alternatively lurking and careening pieces on Workhorse are the more robust members of the guitar family. The rumblings of bass and electric guitar are a common theme to the variegated series of tracks, all conducted by Worden’s voice. Many share the glimmer of a xylophone, the tinseling repetition of a hi-hat, or the pulsation of a keyboard. Strings are consistently used with subtlety to educate the subdued power of an emotive mood, as on the seamless waltz “Gone Away.” Here, a more or less acoustic performance on separation is colored with the winding falsettos and barely-there instrumentation common to Jeff Buckley’s Grace. This bit of Buckley nostalgia crops up again on “We Were Sparkling,” but the vocal harmonies and twittering guitar plucks are all the Diamond’s own.
Worden’s voice is her greatest tool. She has a wide-reaching set of cords that range from pianissimo to forte with a deftness that feels equal parts heritable and long perfected. Her lyrics, already substantive, are given more power and less cheese by their delivery. The lines, “Get me out get me off / This is a ride going nowhere / But somewhere that I despise / Going nowhere to end up with a tearful” could easily be subsumed by instrumentation, but instead commands the instruments as mere pretty accompaniment. The album’s sojourns—soaring, more playful compositions less grounded by the guitar family—are where Worden’s lyrics appear experiential, unpretentious, fluidly linear, and the most story-like, as on the string-dominated “Dragonfly.”
But then there’s the album’s top spot, opener “Something of an End,” which moves from quiet, rugged Harveyesque bass tug to a rainstorm of string tremolos, an imploding string cataclysm, the falsetto chorus, “It was beautiful and terrible,” and finally, a lilting, quivering outro. The song posits all aspects of Worden’s experimentation in a single song. Each subsequent track is a more deliberate exploration of certain elements therein.
The playful vocal work and symbolic narrative of “Magic Rabbit” owes much to Tori Amos’s passionate myth-weaving and unconventional inflections, but Worden’s referential snippets are so elegantly primed with her own temperament and context as to be seamlessly joined with her ingenuous weaving of different genres’ threads. Another notable shift occurs on “Freak Out,” a pulsating, beneath-ground recollection of Soul Coughing’s dark, roiling final album. The marching, ascending bass line, shuddering drums and odd scream punctures an otherwise echoic, guitar driven set of songs.
The instrumental uniformity of the album may have allowed for more leniency and depth than a broad experimentation with sound would have. While those creeping bass and guitar strums are sometimes repetitive, as on “Golden Star” and “The Robin’s Jar,” the album rarely repeats itself other than through its consistent timbre and color schemes. It’s packed full of personal, reachable, and earthen material that refrains from too much reverbing or other affectations. The production allows for a homely, intimate sensory experience that picks up the avant rock of the ‘90s and runs with it.