A more cynical universe—i.e. the one that more/less exists outside the few hundred words of this beaming review—would insist that London’s Kathy Diamond shouldn’t have gotten further than the first slap-bass figure of her debut disco-electro-funk single “All Woman.” The song’s like a positive force “Ain’t Nobody,” the wedding-band staple by Chaka Khan, who herself sang the similarly titled smash “I’m Every Woman.”
That song, if you recall, got redone by Whitney Houston in the early ‘90s, then it soundtracked the Oprah Winfrey Show for a few years. So now we’re talking about a song, called “All Woman,” with 1) slapbass, a once-powerful flourish ruined for most of us by Flea and Les Claypool; 2) sonic similarities to Rufus & Chaka Khan, most of whose repertoire has not aged well *at all*; 3) a singer who indirectly recalls an obnoxious TV personality who gives away free cars to everybody’s moms except our own.
And yet I loved “All Woman,” and I love Diamond’s Miss Diamond To You. A lot of this had to do with its producer Maurice Fulton, an elusive Baltimore/New York/London-living studio man whose remix work I first encountered on the Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” 12″, and whose two albums with wife Mutsumi Kanamori under the name Mu made inroads with the internet indie set.
Fulton’s a fantastic drum and synth patcher, his auxiliary percussion loops fluttering deep in the background, often meant more for feeling than for hearing, his live instruments sampled then chopped up digitally, rare precision given to analog oomph. Except for maybe the DFA’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find better “live-sounding” drum programming. Then there’s Fulton’s sense of vocal tracks, how he stylizes them with manipulations both hardly and harsh, how he democratizes tracks by making vocals just another one of his loops, sometimes a prominent one, other times not.
Except turns out I have heard Fulton before his “HOJL” dub: He did some drum programming for Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love,” which may be the first time I had ever heard house music. Which I find interesting because the way Fulton puts borrowed house, disco, electro, and funk in service of pop R&B on Diamond’s debut LP is pretty similar to a song like “100% Pure Love,” though the percentages this time lean slightly more towards disco and funk.
The bass, often slapped, propels a lot of these songs: “The Moment” is another “All Woman” but with fatter piano chords that remind me of Stevie Wonder’s “As,” convicted, and thumping with its chorus’s anticipation: “I’m waiting for the moment / That I can be alone with you.” “Another Life” is minimal by contrast, just a boisterously funky slap-bassline which takes Diamond’s voice for ambient dressing.
Vocally I keep hearing Chaka Khan, and to be clear, that’s not at all a bad thing. Khan has a broader range than Diamond, and a more faceslapping-/heelslamming-type alpha-female attitude where Diamond tends toward introspection, waiting for the moment, at the very least hesitating before she makes it herself. But Diamond’s not as cheesy as Khan either. She sticks to trad R&B diction but doesn’t resign herself to it, playing within it but never with it, grinning but never smirking. Find me an R&B lyric this year better than the first line of “All Woman”: “I came, I saw, I conquered your heart.”
Miss Diamond plays like an hour-long “All Woman,” just different iterations of the same great song. I can’t think of a better compliment, but without getting into the perpetual fight over what a full-length dance LP should or can be, maybe you disagree. Thing is, there is something *comfortably* repetitive to Miss Diamond. This is partly because Fulton has assembled the tracklisting such that one song’s prelude starts before a totally different song whose prelude will come five tracks later, and by the end, the album is a sweaty haze of “I want you” and “I need you” and “I’m waiting for you.”
That’s somewhat unfair though, since Fulton does break things up. Early on he sneaks in a fierce polyrhythmic instrumental called “Until the Sun Goes Down,” with referee whistles and tomtom runs and jittery bells, not unlike the sonic situations Mu would find herself in. We get a bubbling synth line in swung eighths (“Racing Thru Time”) toward the end, and freaked-EQ acid house (“I Need You”), and even a gospel-like stomp in second single “Over,” whose open piano chords hide all the little rhythmic nuances that drive the track, such as the extra bass note right before every measure’s downbeat, or the harpischord counter-rhythms deep in the background. Which seems to be a good place to end a discussion with Fulton: You’ve heard this song before, but something about it, you don’t know what, is better.
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