When Mugsy told me that Black Diet's new album was to be titled The Good One, I immediately thought the obvious extension was that their debut, Find Your Tambourine, was now by default The Bad One. This came as a shock! Remember, this was an album, recorded pretty much live in a weekend, that captured the immediacy of their concerts and is infused with all sorts of accidental beauty that can only come from not fussing too much. Well, apparently Black Diet feel it was a rush job, and they were eager to move on. It's a great impulse to look forward and move in new directions. Artists that strive for longevity need to reinvent themselves and find new muses to keep fresh and feel relevant. Though I certainly still adore their debut, I can say with sincerity that The Good One is indeed very good.
The album opens with David Tullis doing that great snare-kick-tom-kick-tom-kick-snare-kick count-off into Jonathan publicly revealing his ambivalence about Minneapolis. "State Line" is a great song; our icy outpost gets so wrapped up in itself that it's surprisingly rare to hear an artist admit that, yes. Sometimes it sucks here. And it's catchy as hell. "Fever" shows us that Black Diet has indeed grown and expanded their bag of tricks since FYT. More than any other of their songs, "Fever" channels CBGB's-era new wave in the same way The Stones did on Some Girls. "Brother" treats us to another thematic departure from songs about sex. We're allowed to eavesdrop on JT's intimate conversation with his brother. Musically, this covers similar ground to FYT's "Cry", but it's given more emotional depth by Jonathan's vulnerable lyrics.
"Do A Little Wrong" is the album's showpiece, with all musicians and voices in beautiful form. "Used to Be In Love" and "Loving Me Still" are perfect pop gems (the latter featuring a very Garth Hudson organ solo from Sean Schultz!). "Find a New Love" brings us the deepest groove, locked into an almost Kraut-rocking rhythm section with scorching dual guitars from Schultz and Mitch Sigurdson. Saved for last, "Calls" with its single voice and electric guitar is the least-produced song on the record. When paired with FYT's "Don't Sleep Alone", it almost acts as a bookend for their first two albums. It shows me that these two albums should not be pitted against one another, but enjoyed as two acts.
Black Diet have been a very ambitious band since we met them (and probably before that, too). They never feel fully satisfied with anything they do, always feeling that at least one thing could have been better executed. That's an important thing in an artist, but I truly hope they take a moment in the near future to reflect on all they've accomplished in the last couple years. They've made two truly great albums that defy simple genre labels, and have pushed both themselves and their peers forward.
If you're in the Twin Cities, come to their Release Party at First Avenue. It'll be fun, for sure.
Friday, July 24
First Avenue Mainroom
JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound