There’s a distinct line between imitation and influence. When you’re happily shelling out $8 for a pair of hip aviator Ray-Bun sunglasses, that’s imitation: Despite their nearly identical look, the lenses keep falling out and within two weeks the frames are bent six ways to Sunday. When it comes to bands, the line between imitation and influence is much finer. If your debut sounds even remotely like a well-known artist, you have only one thing that can save you: quality.
On their debut, Popsicle, the members of Diamond Nights walk the line between imitation and influence as if it were in its own ring in the circus. The ghost of Thin Lizzy is present within in the first few driving guitar rhythms of opener “Destination Diamonds.” When singer Morgan Phalen hits a clean falsetto on the chorus, asking, “Baby, do you like to mess around?” all comparisons to Phil Lynott are welcomed and necessary. What follows are eleven more finely crafted songs that sound like 1976 was just last spring.
The quartet, hailing from Queens, New York, has been quite the word about town recently. On the dusty coattails of the rock re-invasion ushered in by the Strokes and the Vines, Diamond Nights was one of the bands to see at this year’s South by Southwest festival — without having released an album. But in the throes of hype, Diamond Nights has relied on solid songwriting, superb production and quality guitar work to prove itself to be more influence than imitation.
With at least four songs that make you want to grab your air guitar, Popsicle trumps the Darkness’s tongue-in-cheek Queen imitation and Louis XIV’s obvious David Bowie jones. “Saturday Fantastic” keeps a steady use of classic-rock guitar riffs and surprisingly masculine vocals that hit the high notes, and the acoustic closer, “Ordinary Life,” shows the band’s quiet, sensitive side. The signs of a band that has a true quality can be heard throughout Popsicle, and it’s that authenticity that keeps Diamond Nights from sounding like a group destined to ride the genre gravy train.