Diane Birch‘s 2009 album, Bible Belt, was one of the most promising debut LPs to emerge in the last five years. Her voice and songwriting style eschews the kind of tawdry, disposable fluff that tends to get traction on Top 40 radio, and instead hearkens back to the confessional singer-songwriter style of legends like Carole King and Laura Nyro. Aside from her 2010 digital-only cover album The Velveteen Age, she’s been holed up in the studio for the last few years working on her sophomore record. So when we heard that she would be road testing songs from her forthcoming LP (due out summer-ish) at an intimate showcase show during Day Three of the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, we dropped our previous plans and made our way over to the Intercontinental Hotel.
It turned out to be an awesome decision.
Birch played seven songs in her roughly 40 minute set, all of which were new to our ears. Whereas her work on Bible Belt alternated between torch songs and jaunty melodies, her new material was considerably more layered and widescreen in its sound. Take her first single, “Speak A Little Louder” (which premiered on Idolator yesterday), for example: She layers reverbed vocals over a bed of warm, atmospheric synths, creating a mood that we saw RCRD Label describe perfectly as “vintage chill.” Over the last few years, she seems to have spent considerable time and effort honing her songwriting craft, particularly when it comes to penning choruses that instantly get stuck in your brain. Birch even proved capable of writing anthemic melodies; the last song of her set last night contained a refrain that promised “We’re superstars tonight.” Considering the way the crowd reacted to her set, that line is certainly prophetic of Birch’s future in 2012.
Other sets we caught last night: