Diane Coffee: With People [Album Review]

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Diane Coffee
With People
Polyvinyl Records [2022]


Diane Coffee is the solo creative pop music project and nom de guerre of Shaun Fleming, who played drums for a while for Foxygen, and had a voice acting career in the early 00’s on a number of Disney Channel animated TV series, Kim Possible and Lilo & Stitch, among others. As Diane Coffee, on this fourth album With People, Fleming and producer Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen) deliver an eclectic take on conventional pop music styles and formats, while Fleming’s lyrics plumb the emotional experiences of the small-town life of their early childhood. There’s a pristine, light, bouncy feel in the catchy pop choruses throughout the proceedings, even on songs with a darker subject matter like “Bullies,” where Fleming sings “I just can’t take anymore,” or when they sing “it’s only blood, it’s only hate,” in the 50’s doo-wop harmonies of “Sharks.”

There’s a classic 70’s feel in “Forecast,” which is a duet with Deep Sea Diver’s vocalist Jessica Dobson, but their two voices blend as if they are one and the same, as they deliver the big pop chorus. Ultimately, like most of us who grew up in small towns, Fleming dreams of “The Great Escape,” because even when celebrating “Our Love/The Run,” Fleming sings “you don’t get to treat this way.” The first has a bit of country rock flavor, while that latter builds from 80’s electronica sounds to a full soaring choral affirmation that “I’m not a child.” But all is not grief and anger packaged with a sugar pop coating, in “Forever You & I” grows to a full, keyboard orchestrated pop love song with a fun guitar solo by Rado, who plays several more with similar verve on the disc, as Fleming sings that “even though the world’s a powder keg,” “you’re still mine.”

We seldom hear artists unashamedly embrace old school pop music values, strong melodicism and rich harmonies, played on a variety of organic instruments rather than relying on computer technology, so Diane Coffee feels like an anecdote to the current pop music malaise. This is the kind of record you might expect from a Carole King, Carly Simon, or early Paul Simon, bright, smart and accessible. Near the end of the ten-song album, Fleming picks up an acoustic guitar and finger-picks the gentle folk pop of “What Good Is It Now,” and the album closes with “Song for David,” which builds around a simple piano and drum best, to a full rich chorus with synths for orchestration, it’s the kind of story telling song you might hear in a new modern day musical theater collection. Fleming displays a wide, eclectic musical palette throughout this album, full of human stories and thoughtful reflections on the life that came before.

“Forecast” / “The Great Escape” / “Forever You & I”

Foxygen / Of Montreal / Har Mar Superstar

My Friend Fish (2013)

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