Perpetual Surrender

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Canada was quite the breeding ground for gauzy synth pop artists in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and by the time DIANA released their debut album, Perpetual Surrender, any act entering the fray encountered the risk of being seen as an also-ran. While DIANA certainly share some similarities with their more established peers -- in particular, breathy female vocals and hazily retro synth patches -- they also manage to put their own stamp on this ubiquitous sound. Where the Toronto-based quartet's contemporaries often take a more experimental or avant-garde approach to retro synth pop, DIANA go the opposite route, delivering more straightforward songs that could have been hits the first time this sound was popular. "That Feeling" has a low-key catchiness and insistent, slightly R&B-tinged groove that makes it sound instantly familiar, and the way the band manages to use the stiffest electronic percussion and tinniest synth tones without a trace of irony has a certain charm. Perpetual Surrender's title track dives even deeper into AOR schmaltz with its languid sax and bass, but once again, DIANA serve it up without a smirk and make it sound good. At times, the group's commitment to bringing back the authentic sounds of the era that haven't yet been revived recalls a lower-fi version of Goldfrapp's underappreciated '80s synth fantasia Head First; "Strange Attraction" and "Born Again" both sound like they could be demos for that album. Part of the reason the band's infatuation with the less fashionable sounds of the '80s works well is singer Carmen Elle's understated delivery, which downplays the cheesier parts of the music surrounding her. While her singing is sometimes a little too delicate to compete with the rest of the band, the weightless ballad "New House" lets her restraint be the star of the show. Perpetual Surrender's highlights might have had more impact if they were collected on an EP, but DIANA have a unique enough perspective -- and enough potential -- to make the album worth a listen for anyone who loves synth pop in any of its incarnations.

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