Nina Diaz has been called “fierce.”
And, while that may be an accurate descriptor, I think the term is kind of thrown around lately in reference to women in the music industry – a kind of buzzword that loses meaning. And honestly, she deserves better than that. More appropriately, she is powerful, edgy, raw, captivating.
The San Antonio native is most well known for her stay as the impressive teenage singer for dreamy alt-punk outfit Girl In A Coma. Signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records in the mid ’00s, the group picked up some notoriety performing at SXSW and opening up for the likes of Morrissey and Frank Black. The women of Girl In A Coma were significantly influenced by their Mexican-American culture, fusing some elements of tejano music and pop superstar Selena into their songwriting. By 2012, the group had gained a substantial worldwide following.
But Diaz broke away from the band in 2014 to work on a solo project, the fruits of which became this album, The Beat Is Dead, released October 2016. Diaz poured a lot of her personal struggles into the record, singing about addiction and recovery, as well as coping with the self-destruction of coming of age while maneuvering through the recording industry. “Rebirth” is a key track, referencing Diaz’s emergence from the darkness of addiction. “I’m back from the dead,” the chorus repeats, assuring us that after the fragmentation of substance abuse, she intends to be whole again.
The record focuses on a theme of determination, and it’s clear that Diaz has a lot to overcome. In the beautiful “January 9th,” Diaz sings about the passing of her grandmother, confronting feelings of guilt, regret, and remorse with lines like, “I don’t want to be the bad one/I don’t want to be the sad one.” Diaz isn’t shy about describing the energy that helped develop this song. “It happened to be a very eerie kind of night,” she told NPR. “And I was recording [the song] on my phone, and I swear you can hear whispers in it. … It’s as if something was in there, kind of telling me what to say.” The something there is a reference to the spirit of her grandmother. The tribute is a bluesy pop ballad, really showcasing the singer’s strength as a roaring, soulful vocal performer.
What I like about this album: Diaz obviously put a lot of work into this record, as it was years in the making. What’s beautiful about it is that it’s a thoughtful work – not only lyrically, but the blending of genres throughout the record (and sometimes even within the same song) gives it a smart appeal. The opening tracks, “Trick Candle” and “Queen Beats King,” hit us immediately with retrowave beats and synthy goodness; it’s exactly what kids of the ’80s are looking for when we reminisce about the pop of our youth being merged with modern sensibilities. The aforementioned “January 9th” is an emotionally raw experience, accompanied by both rock guitars and cello. “Down” is another dazzling dance beat-heavy anthem. In total, The Beat Is Dead is immensely mature and satisfying.
Photo credit for this article goes to Jade Hernandez.