Spark is a Diamond - Try This on for Size
Record Label: Pluto Records
Release Date: May 6, 2008
I first encountered vocalist Alison Bellavance at a show for her previous band, Fall River. In the male-dominated hardcore genre, women are few and far-between, and here was a female vocalist who easily put most male 'core vocalists (myself included) to shame. After Fall River disbanded, Bellavance and Emerald Moon Records founder Matt Boylan joined with drummer Matt Hall (ex. Morning for the Masses) to form Spark is a Diamond. After recording their EP Keep Your Eyes Off the Prize, Boylan was replaced by Joe Crawford on the drums, and the three recorded their debut full-length Try This on for Size.
A brief electronic intro, "Diamonds Are Forever," kicks the album off, leading after about thirty seconds into the title track. "Try This on for Size" will immediately acquaint listeners with Spark is a Diamond's signature sound: Merging hardcore vocals and intensity with club-worthy rhythms and irresistible hooks, the result will immediately imprint the phrase "dancecore" upon the listener's mind. Bellavance's venomous scream trades lines with Boylan's panicked shout, coupled with the latter's unrelenting guitar. Boylan's vocals towards the end of the song aren't quite as strong as they are in other places, but this is a small complaint.
The track also introduces the lyrical status quo for the album: the writing here is so vicious that you can almost taste the venom in your own mouth as you chant along. The final verse concludes, "That face gets all the rep / But it's the drugs that steer the ship / So try this on for size / Lose ten pounds and fucking die!"
The third and fifth cuts are perhaps the strongest on the disc. "_____ ____ Has a Deathwish" features some of the tightest lyrics on the album and a brilliant vocal contribution from Ben Hirschhorn (ex. Morning for the Masses). "Check Your Lease, You're in Fuck City" epitomizes this album's strengths, capturing both the full intensity of the band's hardcore element and an overwhelming energy that will stay with you for months after your first listen. I'd humbly nominate "Check Your Lease" as the catchiest song I've ever heard from any 'core band, and if there are any contenders for that title, they're on this record too.
Other notable tracks include the speed trip "Look What You've Done to This Rock and Roll Town," the wonderfully titled "Destination: Awesome", and a cover of Salt'N Pepper's "Push It (Real Good)"--I'm not kidding. That the cover both successfully evokes the original recording and sounds natural on this album is a testament to the band's remarkable talent.
For all the wonderful things I can think to say about this album, there are two issues that cannot be ignored. The first, while not necessarily a flaw so much as a staple of the genre, is the album's brevity: no track reaches three minutes in length, and the eleven cuts weigh in at twenty-four minutes. This wouldn't be a problem in itself but for the latter issue: many of the songs on the album sound too similar to one another. Every song is strong in its own right; certainly, none qualify as "filler." And of course, with naught but guitar and drums rounding out the band's sound, there aren't quite as many variables as most groups possess to differentiate their songs. But to some extent the rhythms, and more noticeably the guitar tones, could stand to be varied a bit more.
In the end, these qualms detract little from what is undoubtedly a stellar effort. I hope to see the band branch out in the future, but the wonderfully unique sound presented here is more than enough for one album. Try This on for Size will make your heart jackhammer and your blood boil, and it may be one of those rare records that will bring a new audience to the 'core genre.