Not even with some kind of super-duper, newfangled model of crystal ball could anyone have seen this coming three years ago. That John O'Regan—up until quite recently still known only as the frontperson of somewhat quirky indie rock group The D'Urbervilles—would create a synth-pop alter-ego that is on the verge of taking over not just Toronto, but the American and British underground as well, is pretty unreal. But riding on waves of gasping, fumbling praise, O'Regan's Diamond Rings project is doing just that.
The word 'project' feels appropriate here, if only because this music is certainly well-planned and thought-out. He has masterfully matched his slick, DIY bedroom dance-pop with an immediate image. Borrowing from Bowie and Adam Ant, O'Regan's bold rainbow and neon make-up is an androgynous glam stroke of simple genius—well-matched to the music, highly recognizable, but also recognizably homemade. You can tell he worked on this look via bathroom experimentation and just plain 'what if?' fun.
Even more than that, it is a look that makes great sense when one gets around to listening to his great songs. There's a real 'butterfly from a cocoon' feeling one gets from Special Affections. From the slowly emerging beats of opener "Play By Heart" through to the the brisk "whoa-oh-oh"s of early breakthrough single "All Yr Songs", this catchy album bears a tangible level of personal discovery—as though you're hearing in real time the sound of his colourful persona delicately climbing out of the beige everyday-ness of indie rock. It is perfect pop music that points to that specific, chrysalid moment of change, acting it out in both figurative and literal ways. O'Regan chronicles these changes with plainspoken vocals that sound experienced, bored and overwhelmed all at once. And of the record's ten tracks, at least half of them are full-on hits.
It's enough to almost make one sad that it's getting so much attention; that it feels posed to live out some kind of accelerated lifespan and die in front of our eyes. But regardless of how long O'Regan can keep this up and have it resonate, at this moment in time, it totally does—he's living that moment with as much vitality and daring as a person can muster. You can't ask for more than that.