Published Apr 17, 2019Embracing his third album with Internet Arms, Diane Coffee presents fans with a rather perplexing directional shift. Helmed by the fabulous Shaun Fleming, a noted voice actor and friend of Foxygen, the genderless project first struck gold with My Friend Fish in 2013, a smoothly soulful California sunshine pop slacker throwback journey of an album that succeeded despite (or, one may argue, because of) recording limitations.
His second full-length was the 2015 breakout Everybody's a Good Dog, a perfectly far-out glam-rock extravaganza that proved Fleming to be one of the sweatiest small stage performers this side of Har Mar Superstar. Horn sections, organs, gospel backups, big band psychedelic soul — Fleming's unabashed character was chameleon-esque from track to track: you might think Everybody's a Good Dog was recorded with Marc Bolan, peak-era Wrecking Crew and a dash of Flo and Eddie.
Internet Arms is a whole different kettle of fish. This album is pure synth-pop from start to finish. Guitars are usually buried in the texture, rarely surfacing to propel a distinct melody, and though Fleming's lyrics carry as much weight as ever, his vocals are mostly delivered in an opaque, quasi-falsetto soft-as-butter style, rarely hitting that ecstatic, assured, all-out Har Mar level of cathartic crooning.
There are sparks that glint towards what the radio played back in the mid-'80s, the days of Hall & Oates, period Queen, and pretty much every theme song that involved Giorgio Moroder. "Simulation" works as a sort of early synth-pop anthem that Supersempfft might write, featuring vocoder and baritone vocals that break up the lyrical palette a touch. The title track is similarly anthemic, digging deeper into the bass and lead possibilities of synthesis while the hook sinks in, capped off by a rare guitar solo at its crescendo. "Doubt" is a Reagan-era cop drama theme waiting to happen.
Fleming sounds deeply in character on "Work It," his vocals lifting above the typical sheen, exposing a little more lilt and personality. This is aided by the gospel-esque female chorus that also appears, however faintly, on "Stuck In Your Saturday Night," a sound that hints at the old school soulful core of their first two albums.
It's in moments like these where the true worthiness of the album is revealed. Generally, though, Internet Arms straddles the line between loving homage and straight cheese in a somewhat uncomfortable way that no Diane Coffee album has done before. (Polyvinyl)