Album Review: Diva Sweetly—’In The Living Room’

Posted: by The Editor

Diva Sweetly had been cooking behind the scenes for a while, but it wasn’t until 2018’s FEST that they announced their existence. In front of a crowd of 300, the NC emo band Pictures of Vernon came out, played two of their most popular songs, and then Karly Hartzman—the mysterious new member who was up there playing keyboard, even though POV’s songs don’t have key parts—nonchalantly grabbed a mic and told the room that Pictures of Vernon was now Diva Sweetly. The audience’s visible confusion quickly turned to satisfied nods of approval, as the band played a half-hour’s worth of never-before-heard material.

The songs were all from In The Living Room, Diva Sweetly’s full-length debut that dropped last Friday via Seal Mountain Records. It’s a 10-song medley of quirky power-pop and clever pop-punk that pulls more from contemporaries like Great Grandpa, The Beths, and their labelmates, Oso Oso, than POV’s straightforward emo influences. Tracks like “Comfort Food” and opener “Cult” are chipper pop songs with syrupy keyboard licks, thrusting drum fills, and groovy basslines. Others like “Floor Caved In” and “I Won’t Try” are faster cuts with more gravelly, emo-ish vocal deliveries—though just as, if not more, catchy than their softer counterparts.

However, the record’s greatest strength is in its outliers. “Wax” features a toyish synth line and a hyper-nasally vocal delivery that’re distinctly reminiscent of millennial pop-punk canon, …Is a Real Boy. Later on in the tracklist, the superb, Ratboys-esque ballad, “Beneath The Floorboards,” is followed by a blazing mallcore riff that builds into a pummeling ode to Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. Say Anything and My Chemical Romance will be tapped as integral influences throughout the 2020’s, and Diva Sweetly have already set the bar for how to feed that sound into the genre-blending framework of today.

“Education,” the record’s fourth track, is their most successful application of that borderless methodology. It’s a piece of dripping, somewhat psychedelic indie-pop that’s like Jay Som via gobbinjr. Prismatic walls of warped vocal harmonies shimmer behind Hartzman’s affecting falsetto, as the track moves forward at an eerie half-speed that’s eventually brightened by a comforting whistle of the main melody. As soon as it ends, the band zoom into a pop-punk infomercial for a made-up product called The Tongue Knife; “it’s for cleaning your tongue,” they say in a cartoonish voiceover tone.

It’s a refreshing bit of goofy camaraderie that’s been largely absent from punk records in the 2010’s (save for Blink-182’s dated boyishness on California), and it comes mere moments after Hartzman croons, “I’m fleeing for my solitude / even though I’m told that it’s not what I should do.” On stage at FEST she mentioned that she had never played music before her Diva Sweetly bandmates encouraged her, and the record’s final line, “I’m not complete / I’m not alone, I’m something in between,” reminds me of that comment.

In a musical climate where narratives and themes often have more presence in the dialogue than the songs themselves, In The Living Room is proof that good-ole-fashioned friendship is still enough to forge a great fucking album.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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