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From their first LP Are You In or Out? (2009) to their latest LP Casual Acquaintances (2018), The Growlers have forged their own twisted path on the global music scene. They’re the party band that grew into a traveling circus that spawned their own hit event, Beach Goth. Lead singer Brooks Nielsen draws a particular devotion among Growlers fans, as does chief cohort Matt Taylor, The Growlers’ music director and lead guitarist. The band's 2016 LP, City Club, produced by Julian Casablancas, saw them expand their palette to include West African, dance and electronic influences.
The ever-evolving spectacle that is Diane Coffee -- the gender and genre-bending alter ego of Shaun Fleming -- returns with Internet Arms, a swan dive into a lush, digital glam wonderland.
Fleming’s path to stardom can be traced all the way back to his childhood days as a Disney voice actor, but for the past six years he’s explored the depths of his identity and channeled it outward in the form of the enigmatic and exuberant Diane Coffee.
In 2018, after performing as King Herod in the Lyric Opera’s critically-acclaimed run of Jesus Christ Superstar, Fleming emerged from the recording studio with Internet Arms. Born from the fear and uncertainty of a future in which humankind is both dependent on and poisoned by technology, the album finds Diane Coffee trapped in a digital world, enslaved by AI.
“Did you know the technology exists to take a photo of anyone you know and use it to create… well, let’s call it, ‘adult entertainment’?” Fleming asks. “And did you know that an estimated 70% of all online activity isn’t human? Where does that leave us? We don’t interact with each other anymore because we’re always online. Not to mention we can manifest any version of ourselves at the push of a button when we’re logged in, so when we encounter humans they’re not even real.”
Facing this existential crisis, Fleming’s anxieties became his muse as his writing explored the scenarios of this dystopian future: “It’s a personal study on how I feel about living with constant blurred lines of the self and the projected self.” This notion shaped the sound of Internet Arms as well, compelling Fleming to gravitate toward synths, electronic drums, and other futuristic sounds from the past and present to create his version of a digital landscape, as well as a digital version of himself.
“The songs are what have always dictated the sound. Working in the realm of clean, modern pop production has been an exhilarating change of pace. Diane Coffee now sounds like a digitization of its former self because I also feel trapped in this digital world,” Fleming explains.
This newly cybernated Diane Coffee is masterfully unveiled on album standouts “Not Ready to Go” and “Like a Child Does,” with both songs serving as vulnerable reflections on power and abuse. But whereas the former positions its chorus to soar high above a cityscape constructed of conduits and transistors, the driving pulse of the latter propels forward like a high-speed race through the surface streets of said city. Elsewhere, Diane Coffee’s sonic boundaries are pushed the furthest on “Lights Off,” a massive contemporary pop song that impressively showcases Fleming’s extraordinary vocal range.
As a whole, Internet Arms marks a significant new phase for Fleming, a testimony to the idea that Diane Coffee will endure as a fluid form of expression that continues to defy expectations of sound and genre.
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