Casey Dienel's mix of '90s pop R&B with contemporary US indie makes for a thumping party
It’s become fairly on-trend for female indie artists with birthdates in the 1980s – Banks, say – to namecheck their influences as Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and the rest of that cuddly, big-sweatered, early-’90s pop-radio R&B crowd. Yet for all that hip talk, few seem to show much evidence of it in their music, which is why Casey Dienel seems to be on to something here. Three albums in, her White Hinterland project has moved from a competent, slightly dry triangulation of Björk and Sia into something warm-blooded, rich and at ease with itself. Something that takes the bits of Mariah – ‘Emotions’, ‘Fantasy’ – that didn’t make you want to kill children and wraps them up in the indie tastes of post-Dirty Projectors America.
It’s a sound based around studio trickery: she uses swooping waves of vocal overdubs in the style of Dirty Projectors’ 2009 album ‘Bitte Orca’ to build a one-woman choir, then sits down at her piano to bash out major chords in a major way. ‘Ring The Bell’ flags that up perfectly, opening with a Carey-like operatic flutter before settling on a punchy, Dave Sitek-style drum pattern and spray of sax to drive along its big-hearted R&B melody. ‘Metronome’ is pure Janet Jackson, up to and including its sappy lyrical conceit that “I’m a metronome – you’ve got to keep up with me”. These, along with the more Alannah Myles soft-rock styles of pre-release single ‘Baby’, power the best of this new incarnation largely because the melodies work. But when your songs depend on soulful warbling and piano abuse, the lack of a good hook to match the drama is the quickest way to self-parody: five minutes of what sounds like a swarm of bees trying to get into a bottle of orange juice on ‘White Noise’ is shoot-the-radio annoying, and ‘Sickle No Sword’ ends proceedings with endless piano-thumping run-on lines that never quite run into a tune.
These are quibbles, though, given how much Dienel seems to be pulling ahead of her overcrowded field. On previous incarnations, Dienel typified her school: those guarded, ball-achingly tasteful alt.pop records by artists such as Feist, Oh Land and MØ who seem to live in fear of being disapproved of by blogs. Now, she sounds like she’s having a bathroom hairbrush-singing party to which we’re all invited. These are sweet sweet fantasies, baby.