(Simian Records, CD, digital download)
In 2008, Heloise and the Savoir Faire unleashed their debut record, Trash, Rats & Microphones. That album, released on Elijah Wood’s label, Simian Records, received a warm critical reception and helped push the Burlington and NYC-based band into the national consciousness, perhaps owing in part to the appearance of Deborah Harry. The former Blondie lead singer guested on a few tracks, has been cited as an obvious influence and is likely the band’s most famous fan — though listeners in the Shire may beg to differ with that last sentiment. Five years later, Heloise and Co. are back with a new record, Diamond Dust. Like the band itself, which is now essentially front woman Heloise Williams (ex-viperHouse) and her husband James Bellizia, the album is a comparatively lean affair, relying more heavily on stylish electronic production — it’s been charting at online EDM hub Beatport — than previous full-band disco-punk stylings. The result is an album that casts Williams in a newly synthetic but nonetheless neon-hued light, yet retains the wild charm that longtime fans have come to associate with the local dance-rock diva.
Given the continuing encroachment of EDM on modern pop music, Williams’ beat-centric turn isn’t exactly a surprise, though it may find her more in league with the likes of Jessie Ware or Katy B — or even recent Rihanna — than Blondie. What is surprising is the album’s lyrical depth and darkness. Somewhat by design, dance music is rarely the domain of soul-searching expression. But Williams’ latest suggests there is room on the dance floor for both extroverted ass-shaking and heavy-hearted introspection.
Indeed, Diamond Dust plays like a sort of personal catharsis, contrasting Williams’ outward persona as the irrepressible life of the party with distinctly shadowy and emotionally exposed musings on love, life and death. That vulnerability imparts a humanizing quality, even amid the starburst of artificial sounds — including innumerable vocal effects — in which she cocoons herself. What’s more, she’s placed extra emphasis on storytelling to do so.
Whether reworking the Prometheus myth as on “Vibezz,” or approaching the fable of Beowulf from a new angle (“Grendel’s Mother”), Williams reveals a newfound lyrical nuance lurking behind insistent beats and breaks. That’s true in her less academic turns, too. For example, the ode to director John Hughes, titled simply “Hughes,” and the overt Madonna homage “Bottom to the Top.” The latter is among the album’s more organic tracks and may owe a debt to the funky, early 1980s disco-punk of the Clash as much as the Material Girl.
Particularly in an age when audiences expect the next new thing before they’re even done playing with the current new thing, it’s a uniquely satisfying pleasure to find something that really is worth the wait. Surprisingly layered and substantial and, unsurprisingly, innately danceable, Diamond Dust is exactly that.
Diamond Dust by Heloise and the Savoir Faire is available at iTunes.