Album Reviews

Rainbow Arabia – Boys And Diamonds

(Kompakt) UK release date: 28 February 2011

Now signed to Kompakt, the LA-based husband and wife basement-dwelling duo Tiffany and Daniel Preston release their debut full-length as Rainbow Arabia. Picking up right where 2010’s Kabukimono left off, Boys And Diamonds continues the Prestons’ smash-and-grab plundering of global musical motifs, adding to the equation an extra layer of sheen and replacing their well-worn analogue sound with high production value.

Boys And Diamonds is a madcap trek around the postmodern musical landscape of a world on the brink of catastrophe. Disparate elements seem whirred together and churned out to a heatstroke-inducing club with a claustrophobic dance floor. Here, a dingy old synthesizer, there a marimba. Cue the African guitars overtop of polyrhythmic drums and loops, and add some ’80s pop sensibilities for good measure. The result is a schizophrenic album that never quite figures out what it wants to be; nonetheless, Boys And Diamonds is a globe-hopping good time with hooks to spare.

At the centre of it all is Tiffany Preston’s standout vocal delivery. She’s something of a karma chameleon though, blending and changing her angle of attack to match the sea of sounds undulating around her. Occasionally, she makes obvious her influences, and the comparisons are unavoidable; she’s an amalgamate hybrid of M.I.A and Karin Dreijer Anderssen.

But despite accusations of mimicry (which will surely be abated once Preston finishes her evolution into the uniquely intriguing and vocally crushing powerhouse she’s sure to become), the Prestons have got something their influences don’t: an intensely well honed and focussed sense of the power of bubblegum pop. These moments are rare on Boys And Diamonds, but they’re bubbling and smacking just below the surface, waiting to break through the malaise of world-music disintegration.

For example, lead single Without You opens with tribal drumming, but cues up M83-leaning keyboards and shifts into bouncing ’80s teen-movie pop perfection, resulting in one of the most infectiously smile-inducing tracks we’ve heard this year. On the flipside, Papai is a brooding and intense mostly instrumental tune that risks collapsing under the shifting weight of its percussive layers.

Nothin’ Gonna Be Undone (which features a guitar riff that sounds just a shade off from the Sesame Street theme song) and Blind are a one-two punch that demonstrate Rainbow Arabia’s central problem. While both tracks bound and bounce with the best of them, the dancehall sound finds Tiffany Preston taking on an affectation of reggae, wielding a hipslung faux accent that demonstrates her reluctance to carve out a surefire identity for herself.

More than anything, Rainbow Arabia are eclectic – often hyperactively so – and this means that Boys And Diamonds is a bit hit-or-miss. The album as a whole is far more palatable than their previous self-produced EP’s, and the duo’s sound benefits greatly from the upgrade in aesthetics. They’ll go far if they continue their evolution, but as it stands, Boys And Diamonds presents them as sounding too much like a de-clawed M.I.A., devoid of controversy and short on swagger. There’s little not to like about this debut album, which never relents in its quest for the perfect balance between catchiness and experimentalism, but there’s also not quite enough personality to distinguish it from the din.

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More on Rainbow Arabia
Rainbow Arabia – Boys And Diamonds
Rainbow Arabia – Kabukimono