Reflections is an odd thing: a conservative, meat-and-potatoes example of a genre that looks to the future.
PC Music came back with a vengeance. When it first emerged in 2014 it was an intriguing wrinkle in the discussion about poptimism, at least as discussed as listened to, dismissed as a fad and criticized for “feminine appropriation” by critics who assumed Hannah Diamond was a studio creation and Sophie wasn’t actually a woman. Then came Charli XCX’s work with A.G. Cook, Sophie’s landmark Oil of Every Pearl’s Insides, and a whole host of imitators, some of whom (100 gecs, Slayyyter, Dorian Electra) are alarmingly popular. Hyper-real pop is the sound of now, and what should’ve been a passing microgenre still feels like a new thing.
Hannah Diamond, whose “Every Night” and “Pink & Blue” are among the best original PC Music cuts, reemerges into this conversation as a relative bastion of orthodoxy. Her approach sounds less like the newer iterations of the sound, which can be overwhelming, than how it sounded in its earliest days. The songs on her debut album Reflections aren’t rendered in speaker-rattling hi-def but in slightly chintzy mid-fi. There’s less of a kinship with EDM than ‘90s European artists like Aqua and Ace of Base.
Some pop in this vein is so trebly it’s hard to listen to, but Reflections focuses more on midrange, and even the dance tracks sound like ballads. “Shy” could’ve built up to massive EDM catharsis, but it’s weirdly calm in spite of all the snare and synth action going on. Rather than raising her voice when her songs need a shot of emotion, she lets producer A.G. Cook tweak her vocals with Auto-Tune. This isn’t the smooth pitch correction we find in most pop but a squealing effect that sounds like the air being let out of a balloon.
Though Diamond uses the language of computers in her songs (“replace and delete/erase you from me”), these songs exist in the human world. They’re simply written tunes about heartbreak and breakups and infatuations. That’s true of most PC Music cuts; their purpose is as much to convey an idea of a song as to be songs themselves. But somehow, we don’t feel like we’re having a prank pulled on us. There’s less of an uncanny-valley factor here than on most music in this vein, which might be because that aspect has been pulled in such extreme directions on albums like Charli’s Pop 2 that an album like this seems quaint by comparison.
Reflections is an odd thing: a conservative, meat-and-potatoes example of a genre that looks to the future. Some might find it underwhelming for that reason, but Reflections is an enjoyable listen—and it twists our heads when it wants to, as when “Concrete Angel” explodes into a light show at least as impressive as the one on Charli’s “Gone.” Diamond might be behind some of her descendants as far as innovation, but she seems content to simply hone her own sound. Her eye is on the future, but she’ll get there on her own time.