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Vegyn Shines on Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds

The London producer proves he’s more than just a Frank Ocean collaborator

Music Reviews Vegyn
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Vegyn Shines on <i>Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds</i>

You’ve probably heard Vegyn before whether or not you realize it. The 25 year-old London-based producer born Joe Thornalley first jumped into the cultural consciousness in 2016, producing a handful of tracks on both of Frank Ocean’s albums from that year, the underrated, elusive Endless and the game-changing Blonde. That relationship—whose nightclub and USB-sharing origins sounds like a narrative from Blonde itself—has remained fruitful; Vegyn is a co-host on Ocean’s Beats 1 show, Blonded Radio, and a DJ at his recent PReP+ parties in New York.

At this point, I’m inclined to say that that’s enough about Frank Ocean. But it’ll be hard for Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, Vegyn’s debut record, to escape Ocean’s shadow. Like Blonde, this is an album obsessed with creating something uniquely of its time. Like Endless, its electronica simmers and rarely boils over. Like both, the album revels in immaculately juxtaposed textures. Every time you’re reminded of a specific moment on either of those records—the beatswitch on “Nights,” for example, or the plucky guitar melancholy of “Slide On Me”—you’ll invariably realize that Vegyn produced those. Maybe the question is how much of Vegyn’s own shadow is he trying to outrun.

He sure is running fast. Songs on Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds are absolutely packed with ideas, sounds and textures, never lingering for too long on any given sonic idea despite still having a clear and refined palette. The album only has a few vocal performances—there’s JPEGMAFIA on single “Nauseous / Devilish,” fellow U.K. countryman Jeshi on album highlight “I Don’t Owe You NYthing” and some hard French bars delivered by Retro X on “You Owe Me.” The album feels better for being largely instrumental, making a case for Vegyn to stand alongside other greats like Oneohtrix Point Never or Aphex Twin that likewise mine meaning from sheer sound.

Still, the album is obsessed with creating and sharing Vegyn’s specific voice. There are moments where Vegyn seems to be testing out signature producer tags; a woman asks, “Did I tell you I’m Vegyn?” at the opening of “I Don’t Owe You NYthing.” Elsewhere, he finds internal musical rhymes in his songs, most readily apparent on the opening/closing duo of “Blue Verb” and “Blue Verb Reprise” but also noticeable in the quieter sequences that highlight similar string arrangements and mirroring drum programming peppered throughout the album.Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds is staggeringly polished, mixing complicated vocal samples with decibel-traversing string suites, elegiac keys, drum pads, synths and more.

There’s also an impressive array of emotional textures that Vegyn plumbs on the album. Often, songs will be bookended by somber tones that leave room for whiplashing optimism in the center. That’s particularly evident on “Debold,” a fuzzy groove that spikes its synthetic melodies on a sedated four-on-the-floor beat, or on the playful “That Ain’t No Dang Cat!,” which toys with alien sonics and Nintendo 64-adjacent soundfonts in between fits of processed noise. Sometimes, Vegyn uses chopped samples to chart clear emotional territory: The hospital sounds of “It’s Nice To Be Alive” emulates the euphoria of coming to, while the defensive diatribe that opens “Aspenz” will make you ready to fight for your friends. Though every song is a marvel to listen to, they’re not all emotionally successful; the production on “Thoughts Of Offing One” feels mismatched to its provocative title, in particular. Built around gunshot samples and warping synths, the track exists somewhere between the dancefloor and the onset of a panic attack: Refusing to commit in either direction, it’s one of the few low-points on the album.

Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds excels when it’s at its most opaque. “Fake Life,” the album’s best song, is a lurching mystery, shapeshifting from a Victorian harpsichord crooner to a synthetic banger and back again. The track is waterlogged, gasping for breath, letting symphonic suites peer at themselves in a funhouse mirror; it sounds like materialized imposter syndrome, and it’s hard not to hear it in the context of Vegyn’s relationship with Ocean and his rapid—if still understated—rise to relevance in 2016. But Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds is so much more than a Frank Ocean-adjacent oddity. Next time you hear Vegyn’s music, you’ll know his name.

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