Published Sep 16, 2014In approaching her fifth album under the name My Brightest Diamond, Shara Worden focussed on the question, "What is the value of music?" That's a big question, one that inspired the classically trained opera singer to take her music back to the basics, to communal percussion and sing-alongs, but from there, the album's narrative gets muddled.
Her 2011 full-length, All Things Will Unwind, focused on jazzy acoustic chamber pop arrangements with a running commentary on the struggling economy. This Is My Hand lacks in comparative subtlety, placing as much emphasis on droning synthetic bass lines and trip-hop guitars as symphonic flourishes, while her lyrics take a personal turn. The resulting album leans more on contemporary indie pop than classical orchestra and cabaret, presenting a style of dramatic post-Internet pop maximalism comparable to Florence and the Machine (anything from the first half could have been on Ceremonials) and St. Vincent ("Shape" has Strange Mercy written all over it).
Sure, This Is My Hand maintains much of her eccentric flair, but it seems tempered by its often overwhelming context. For example, the electronics in "Pressure" seem unnecessary when it already has the Detroit Party Marching Band pushing the beat. The bland handclaps and horns on "Lover Killer" give it a cheesy stadium funk sound, while the drum machine on "I Am Not the Bad Guy" sounds lifted from "Machine Gun" by Portishead. "Apparition" could have destroyed as a minimal, acoustic track, but its muddy downtempo house beat squashes the low-end, leaving no room to breathe. It may have initially attempted to be tribal and inviting, but it comes off overproduced and derivative, falling into the background behind similar artists when she seemed poised to create something raw and distinctive in the wake of the refined All Things Will Unwind. (Asthmatic Kitty)