The Don of Diamond Dreams marks the album-length return of the Seattle hip hop group Shabazz Palaces after three years. The return isn’t quite as bombastic as one might hope, but the production of the album has a distinct galactic shine and unique approach that can make a check-in worth it.
Throughout Don of Diamond Dreams, the musical production underneath any vocals is often far more interesting than what stories are being told. In general, the songs tell stories of ambition, ego, and power of various permutations but often through repeated phrases and only mildly interesting imagery. What makes a stronger impression on the listener during and after an album listen is the dense, yet expansive musical production. In total, this album feels like a transmission from an extra-terrestrial royal representative come to Earth to show off their swag a bit before leaving and moving on to their next lucky host.
This powerful introduction to the “Don of Diamond Dreams” beings in “Ad Ventures,” which has Ishmael Butler performing unbothered, almost laconic vocals over instrumentals that are eventually surrounded by a substantial amount of seductive reverb. The follow-up, “Fast Learner,” features Purple Tape Nate and nearly shatters your ears with its impressive bass beat (in a good way?). The repeated melody underneath the vocal performance here is entrancing and just mysterious enough to give the song a darker, deeper undertone than it might otherwise have.
The depth and playfulness on display in their production perhaps reach their maddening heights in “Wet,” which succeeds at sounding as if it’s being performed in some underwater studio. The middle section of the song uses stereo production techniques to get Butler’s voice up close and personal with your ears, bouncing subtly back and forth between left and right. The result is mildly surreal, but not to entirely enjoyable results.
The later album entry, “Bad Bitch Walking,” features Stas THEE Boss and is one of the standouts on the album. The best moments on Don of Diamond Dreams create an appealing, tangible mood, and this entire song builds that kind of atmosphere. The following track, “Money Yoga,” is an interesting combination of mantras (“I gotta get my money”) and soulful instrumentation, representing the calm focus of the title rather than the aggressive ambition that the subject might otherwise represent.
The finale track further enhances the impression that Don of Diamond Dreams is some sort of galactic message. “Reg Walks By the Looking Glass,” which unravels for a cool seven minutes and features Carlos Overall, is laden with the numerous other production flairs found on the rest of the album. The song sticks to such an easygoing mood that you can forget how long you’ve been listening. Time slips away, and the spirit takes over. Eventually, it ends with a heavily processed vocal that sounds like a goodbye message from this mysterious Don of Diamond Dreams. Once that spell is broken, the album ends, and the music we just heard becomes more interesting. If only the words could create impressions as strong as the music with which they’re paired.