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My Brightest Diamond - A Million and One Music Album Reviews

In pursuit of sweaty deliverance, the acrobatic singer takes worries about police brutality, relationship woes, and embracing differences to the dance floor.

A Million and One, the fifth full-length from Shara Nova’s My Brightest Diamond, is nocturnal and optimistic, like the dark winter trek toward the lights of the dance floor. “Sometimes I will go to a club and don’t want to be distracted by everyone else’s energy,” Nova says, “but I want to dance hard, so I face the wall, playing with what shadows I can create.” Nova is directed and moody during these 10 tracks, making the sort of sulky party music that is the specialty of Troye Sivan or Robyn. They don’t want to escape their tender aches but, instead, bring their little heartbreaks along in the search for sweaty deliverance. Nova understands the value of pleasure in a painful time.

On 2014’s This Is My Hand, Nova’s pop landscape was weird and dextrous, full of swaying horns and electronics. Her opera-trained voice aces incredible whirligigs and whiplashes here, too, but there is little sense that this is a show. It’s on the ground like a fighter, her voice weaponized by jagged quavers and barbed high notes. Even within a single preposition, like “for” during opener “It’s Me on the Dance Floor,” she can flip from full-bodied boom to imposing growl. She often layers her voice with itself so that songs like “White Noise” and “Supernova” reveal their eerie underbellies over time. Her voice is intense, the kind that suggests the mouth and throat as a series of interconnected caves; you want to follow it down.

Over the past decade, Nova has collaborated with artists who share her sense of narrative drama: Laurie Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, the Decemberists, David Byrne. Her most potent songs often describe the type of loneliness that is particular to the oddball—like “Another Chance,” where lovely howls over twinkling bells and stuttering drums communicate relationship regrets. When she sings “You won’t believe what you cannot see” during “A Million Pearls,” it suggests being resigned to someone else’s inability to see her shimmer.

Even though Nova asks you to dance often—the snapping funk interlude of “It’s Me on the Dance Floor” practically commands it—she favors slightly aloof, entirely glacial dramatics. Her tone is glistening, large-scale. The songs here have the backbone of a club track, but their sparseness allows the elements to echo, for you to understand each phrase. Earl Harvin’s sensational drumming holds itself closely to Nova’s charged voice; on “Sway,” his moves sound like trailing footsteps.

A Million and One, Nova says, is indebted to Detroit, a city just east of her Ypsilanti hometown. References to Detroit are oblique, and the geography comes across as a biographical fact rather than an explicit feeling. During “You Wanna See My Teeth,” she actually heads for Florida, documenting the scene of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Somewhat uncomfortably, Nova embodies Martin by stepping into his clothes, as when she flatly sings “My hood is up” over jolting guitars. Sirens flashing in the distance are theatrical props, enhancing the showtune quality of her jarring phrases. “Hey kid, where ya going, going?” she asks with the bullish, upbeat tone of a musical. The final perspective switch—to the person who gets away with murder, who “nothing can touch”—leaves a haunting residue.

Most of the songs on A Million and One burrow between ecstasy and threat, Nova’s voice playing at the edges of those feelings. During “It’s Me on the Dance Floor,” she sings: “I been going out/I been going out on a limb.” She tells us how to read the album, that she’s going to upend even the songs that seem ready for the floor. The pursuit of pleasure can be risky, and that’s the rush.


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