REVIEW: The Diamond Center - Crystals for the Brass Empire

Raquel Dalarossa

The word “band” doesn’t seem to adequately describe The Diamond Center. They’re quite an expansive coterie, encompassing sixteen members according to the project’s Facebook page, and their latest album likewise defies standard limitations: it’s a “tri-split” release, put out with the help of three separate labels (Funny/Not Funny, Egghunt, and Steady Sounds Records). Not to mention how geographically far-reaching this pseudo-collective seems to be—they started in Athens, GA, made a name for themselves in Richmond, VA, and passed through Lubbock, TX before settling, for the time being, in Austin. This is all to say that The Diamond Center truly knows no bounds, and their ambitious tendencies are rendered, musically, into a sprawling and complex psych-rock sound on their new full-length release, Crystals for the Brass Empire

At the core of this group are Kyle Harris and Brandi Price, who came together in 2007 and have since amassed quite a roster of friends and collaborators. The nomadic pair share songwriting duties, informed not only by their travels but also by their roots: both are Southerners raised strictly on oldies radio. Crystals is the couple’s veritable lovechild—completely and transparently a product of their stories, combining country sensibility with fringe style.

The album evokes pure psychedelia à la the 13th Floor Elevators almost immediately with opening track “Messenger,” a hypnotic and woozy number set to a marching beat. Price’s vocals are distant but alluring, always calling us further into the band’s far-off space in a way that's vaguely reminiscent of ‘90s darling Mazzy Star. Layered electric guitar, bass, and organ riffs play off of each other, creating a dense soundscape that simultaneously brings to mind both The Doors and Edward Sharpe.

Many of the group’s songs have a cinematic quality with the ability to really place the listener in a distinct setting; third track “Bones,” for example, would feel right at home on the soundtrack for an old Western or Quentin Tarantino film. Meanwhile, “SAMO” is a doozy of a song, evolving over the course of seven minutes from ominously trippy (aided by the addition of string instruments) to upbeat and impassioned, with fuzzy guitar freak-outs to spare. 

At nine tracks (including two digital-download extras), Crystals may appear thin upon first glance, but it quickly becomes evident that each of these songs is intricately lush. The group’s extended network of helping hands is obviously key to the fleshed out sound, and most of the tracks here achieve the right balance between down-home jangliness and psych-y rock 'n roll, taking the listener on a trip through both desert and space. You'll never find The Diamond Center in the same place twice, so best to just enjoy the ride while it lasts.