The sight of Toronto musician John O’Regan in his Diamond Rings getup—his cascading mohawk, multicolored tights, acid-washed denim, and Patrick Nagel eye makeup—screams electroclash irony, much like his taste for simplistic drum-machine patterns and vintage synth sounds. But although the laptop rocker’s 2009 breakthrough viral video “All Yr Songs” dripped with intentional gimmickry, it also hinted at a sincere sentimentality that O’Regan’s debut, Special Affections, wears wholeheartedly. Much of that is due to O’Regan’s voice, a charming, sad bastard baritone reminiscent of The Triffids’ David McComb or, more pointedly, The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, with whom he also shares a love of simple synth-pop à la The Human League. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Merritt’s way with a clever couplet: Much of Special Affections is full of endless, nakedly straightforward laments like, “So I lay on the floor with the heart that I wore upon my sleeve when I lost your love” (“Play By Heart”) or “If you want to throw a party, I can cry tonight” (“It’s Not My Party”). It pairs well with O’Regan’s knack for effortlessly infectious vocal melodies—and Special Affections boasts many of them, from O’Regan’s slightly sinister brood on distorted guitar-backed single “Wait And See” to his jazzy cadence on “Pre-Owned Heart”—but some unexpected lyrical twists could transform Diamond Rings into an act smart enough to transcend its smarmy packaging.
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