Traveling to new dimensions is certainly an appealing prospect, but, sometimes, the most poignant experiences in life are the ones that happen every day. Walking through the city at night. Staring at billowing clouds on your desktop. Lazily floating in a pool alone. Using drugs or sex as a form of easy escape. Transcendence can be achieved through limited means, something it’s taken Lemonade years to realize, during which time the trio of Callan Clendenin, Ben Steidel, and Alex Pasternak has managed to move across the country and completely reinvent its sound.
Formed in San Francisco, Lemonade initially crafted visceral, psychedelic, and vaguely tropical rave journeys that touched upon dozens of the group’s influences (Liquid Liquid, Sons of a Loop Da Loop Era, Digital Mystikz) without sounding particularly like any of them. Early shows offered otherworldy, mind-bending experiences that drew a loyal MDMA-crazed local following. The phenomenon only intensified after the release of the band’s self-titled debut LP in 2008 and subsequent move to New York.
That mostly improvised, ecstatic collection of “agile, hedonistic pop music” (as called by Radio 1′s Mary Anne Hobbes) earned praise from the indie and dance communities alike. Pitchfork wrote, “it vividly replicates that first sensation of losing yourself in a peak-hour, strobe-lit reverie, where the communal act of dancing teeters between liberation and disorientation.”
2010 saw the band’s second release, Pure Moods, an effort by Lemonade to steer their schizophrenic palate through pop waters. Combining warped old-school rave, R&B, grime, a variety of global rhythms, and other styles too numerous to list, the record was an important stepping stone for a group that was only beginning to discover the emotional potency of out-and-out pop songwriting.
Now, more than two years later, that transformation is complete, as Diver documents Lemonade operating as a focused unit, one that’s more interested in speaking to your heart than blowing your mind. Traces of the group’s disparate musical interests still populate the record, but make no mistake, Diver is a bold and sensual electronic pop record.
Diver swims ecstatically in every thing from the melodies of early 90′s R&B, UK 2-step Garage, Balearic house and NY freestyle to ’80s pop-rock nostalgia, wispy new age, boy-band innocence, and synth-driven Euro-trance. The production, assisted by Fisherspooner collaborator Le Chev, is exceptionally crisp. Diver also contains some of most easily digestible music Lemonade has ever produced, yet it is anything but shallow. Callan’s lyrics now look inward, to his attempts to hold on to redemptive love and romance in a cybernetic, information-rich world.
Clendenin says, “I felt that after the explosion of internet music, all the insular scenes that inspired me now lacked necessary isolation, like tribes discovered deep in the Amazon, exposed to the modern world and now horribly addicted to Pepsi. I began to look back on what I have truly loved throughout my life musically and tried to synthesize it all, from classic R&B to avant electronic artists to the most epic techno, and tried to put it together as my ideas about music collapsed upon me. I think that all I really needed to have faith in music was good songwriting with real emotion, which is what we tried to do with this album.”
“Neptune,” the album’s first single, shows where Lemonade’s collective head is at; Clendenin’s vocals—are front and center, intertwining with airy, new age-referencing melodies as the he spins a lover’s lament. Diver has its share of wistful tunes: “Eye Drops” gets sentimental with a ghostly R&B vocal loop and a meditative piano, while the expansive “Vivid” bathes his introspective voice in glowing synths and chime melodies.
That said, Diver isn’t a dour affair. Its songs may be thoughtful, but many of them are downright jubilant. Album opener “Infinite Style” celebrates with a bright cascade of keyboards, “Whitecaps” adds a funky electronic bassline and steel-drum samples to the mix, the exceptionally glossy “Sinead” hints at Balearic ’90s rave sounds, and “Big Changes” stuffs the grandiose flourish of big-room festival trance into a helplessly infectious pop song.
Perhaps the album’s most personal track, “Softkiss” closes the album with what sounds like an updated boy-band anthem full of ringing chords and lovelorn lyrics. It’s a far cry from the cacophony that once dominated Lemonade’s discography, but it’s also infinitely more powerful.