A quick glance at Diagrams’ blog, and you notice the number of pictures involving open spaces. It’s a testament (intentionally or not, I don’t know) to what one imagines to be inspiration for many of their songs, which are airy and gliding, with a magical, escapist quality – that’s only boosted by the atmosphere of timidly expectant excitement at their Brudenell show, part of their first full UK tour.
This perhaps also suggests why they’ve picked Yeti Lane as their support. The experimental French duo carefully piece together looped and synthed and programmed melodies held together with a defined drumming and topped off with delicate male vocals to create a starscape in the mind’s eye. Their songs are perhaps a little too epic, and a little too perfectly put together, to be played live without interacting with the crowd – it’s almost too immersive – but if you can let yourself be drawn in you will find a strangely intriguing mix of driving rhythm and melodic electronics.
Sam Genders, who fronts Diagrams, is accompanied on tour by a varying rota of trusty musicians, who cram the stage with viola, trumpet, saxophone and any number of guitars, so much so you wonder if they will all fit. Fit they do somehow, and this wonderful mix of musicians create an experimentally upbeat pop sound of first song ‘Hills’, with the brass lending a big band style sound that avoids the cliche.
Genders’ voice, familiar from his work in Tunng, is instantly recognisable – warm, somehow honest, down to earth, and softly rich. Keyboard and vocalist Astra mirrors his words, her hardly-there vocals softening yet adding richness to Genders’ – it’s a technique they use throughout the set and which works wonderfully to conjure up images of free imagination, and when they understatedly loop their vocals as demonstrated in ‘Night All Night’ it’s like you’ve been swept up in a sea of warm melted chocolate.
Of course there will be comparisons with Diagrams and Tunng – there are overlaps of style between the two, and Genders’ vocals are so distinctive he’ll always carry his previous work with him. Not that that’s a bad thing when it’s this enthralling. Diagrams are undeniably poppier, more accessible perhaps, but it’s the big band dimension to songs like ‘Appetite for Life’, that sets the two bands apart the most. It’s an integral part of each song, contributing to their undeniable shape. That shape pins your attention, taking you along with the flow of the song, riding the crescendos and gliding over the foundations, each a story with an unexpected ending; sensitive, wry, pleasingly contradictory. ‘Woking’ is soft, and pre-dawn-like, the calm before a storm; ‘Animals’ is all about people.
Genders chats genially between songs, and sounds genuinely chuffed to be in Leeds, even a little surprised at the warm welcome. There’s a message book for us to write in later – “nice or not nice” messages, he doesn’t mind. They return for the encore, and we are treated to the first live performance by the whole band (Genders is so apologetic I am tempted to believe him) of ‘Tall Buildings’, a flowing tale of life and hope, moving away and making things fit, which shows again how well their words fit the instrumental narrative, and vice versa. A fittingly poetic finale.