Given the almost instant liftoff of his glam-heavy Diamond Rings project, it’s easy to forget that Toronto’s own John O actually hasn’t been a synth-pop star for very long. He began as the frontman of guitar-rock band The D’Urbervilles (now called Matters), and while his early singles as Diamond Rings had a charmingly rudimentary feel, they also showed that he was still adapting to unfamiliar sonic terrain.
So when it came time to craft his second LP, the choice to enroll in an electronic-music master class by teaming up with Björk’s acclaimed producer, Damian Taylor, was a wise one—John O’s glittering pop songs have been fleshed out with the type of dense synths they could have used right from the beginning. The bigger production values lend Free Dimensional an ’80s-revivalist gloss that’s heavily indebted to Depeche Mode.
Yet amid flashes of digitized brilliance, there are elements of the man John O used to be: The album’s standout track, “Runaway Love,” is also by far its most guitar-centric, and Free Dimensional also reveals a few of the performer’s growing pains. After a hit parade of colossal jams, the album’s midsection sags thanks to some garish songwriting choices (not one but two songs contain downright cringe-worthy rap verses).
But a strong finish built on the steely groove of “Stand My Ground” reminds us that John O is a brilliant melody-maker, and Free Dimensional stands as another encouraging step in his evolution. Surely, though, Diamond Rings’s best is yet to come.
Playlist picks “Runaway Love,” “Stand My Ground,” “Put Me On”