Hearing Rainbow Arabia’s full-length debut for the first time, it’s hard to not let the wild diversity of their sound, which calls to mind the radical not-quite-pop of Yeasayer, the freaky worldbeat of Karin Dreijer (of Fever Ray and the Knife fame), and any number of Putumayo-featured world music icons, detract from the songs themselves. Not that there are many of those, anyway. The LA-based pop experimentalist duo’s shrill, cacophonous take on world music via electro-pop made waves with the deranged promo video that accompanied buzz single “Omar K” back in 2009, and even bigger waves when the band signed with noted electro pioneers Kompakt Records, a label which has only recently begun to set their sights beyond Euro-EDM.
Rainbow Arabia’s debut full-length comes on the heels of two EPs: The Basta and Kabukimono, which saw them toy around with lo-fi Korg lines and the occasional guitar riff over rickety African and Arabic drum samples. The final product, both times, was pretty underwhelming, if only for the duo’s inability to craft the sort of pop song they hint at on the almost-standouts “Harlem Sunset” and the aforementioned “Omar K”. Boys and Diamonds sees the duo attempt to take things to the next level, finally marrying their feral rhythms and offbeat synths to a new-found desire to try their hand at conventional songwriting, a departure from the banal weirdness of yester-EP that goes through the motions of crafting experimental pop. The result is a wildly uneven debut that isn’t remotely satisfying.
Boys and Diamonds ends up being hindered by the the same awkward, mock-ethnic yelps the duo seems to feel the need for on every other song they cut and the empty, tinny nonsense they seem to arrive at all too often as they attempt to craft memorable pop. They fall quite short of this on the very forgettable lead single “Without You”; they also bumble through busy avant-garde electronica, as they do so tediously with the industrial disquiet of “Papai”, and sometimes they try for a slippery amalgam of the two, as they do for much of the rest of the album. The duo must be given some credit for having a great sense of humor in their dubbing Boys and Diamonds‘ most utterly lifeless track “Mechanical”. Six-minute album closer “Sequenced”, which plays off of the sort of stellar minimal techno in Kompakt Records’ storied back-catalog, acts as a solitary bright spot on a record that sounds desperately in need of inspiration.