Friday, April 27, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

Lavender Diamond, Imagine Our Love,
M a t a d o r

Earth is the most beautiful planet so don't forget to
laugh at the sunsets.

-- Becky Stark, 12/23/06

Possessing a rare five-octave vocal range, she displayed
the ability to imitate instrumentation and even birds.

-- Wikipedia entry on Minnie Riperton

Based on last year's Cavalry of Light EP, I was looking forward to the full-length debut from this Los Angeles quartet. They haven't let me down. On the contrary, they've surpassed my expectations.

My only complaint is that ecstatic nursery rhyme "You Broke My Heart," which dates from 2005, doesn't appear on Imagine Our Love, but that's good news for those who picked up the four-track disc. Led by world peace proponent Becky Stark, Lavender Diamond makes folk for dream-pop fans, dream-pop for folk fans.

That description may be over-simplification, but it's a start. For one thing, the classically trained soprano doesn't have one specific singing style. She has a few, though all are related. Sometimes, she sounds like a traditional folk singer, sometimes like a sunshine pop chanteuse (especially when she harmonizes with herself).

Comparisons abound to such disparate artists as Emmylou Harris, Shirley Collins, Nico, Karen Carpenter, and Kate Bush. I don't hear any of them—especially the deep, dark Nico—but Stark does has a similar sort of hyper-feminine thing going on. Instead, I hear Free Design, Starless and Bible Black—even a little Joan Baez.

Stark, who began her career
as a bird-like character named Lavender Diamond, can hit the highest of the high notes. And it's impressive, but I don't think she's merely trying to show off, although she comes close on "Dance Until Tomorrow," in which she gives Maya Rudolph's opera-trained mother Minnie Riperton
a run for the money (see the glass-shattering "Lovin' You").

Some people simply express themselves best at the top of their range. Some, like Nina Simone, and—yes—Nico, at the bottom.
It isn't just what you're born with, but what feels most natural. When I think of the soprano in pop, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell are the first women who come to mind. Stark doesn't sound like them either, but in a sense, she's following in their footsteps.

At the same time, she's carving out her own path. I can compare her to other vocalists—or try to, at any rate—but Imagine Our Love is a unique creation. Folk and dream-pop mingle with gospel ("Side of the Lord") and country ("My Shadow Is a Monday").

Wikipedia classifies the band, which includes Jeff Rosenberg (guitar), Steve Gregoropoulos (piano), and Ron Regé Jr. (drums), as "New Weird America," but not freak-folk (or psych folk, as they call it). That makes sense, although Lavender Diamond is more pop-oriented than some of the artists most closely associated with freak-folk, like Joanna Newsom. In other words, the classification isn't innacurate, but it is somewhat misleading.

As for the lyrics, there's some intriguing stuff here. I'm not sure about "I'll never stop a bullet / But a bullet might stop me ("The Garden Rose"), which evokes "I Gave My Love a Cherry"—so brilliantly deconstructed by John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House—but none of Stark's other words gave me pause.

Mostly I've been too dazzled by the voice and the instrumentation, which includes woodwind and brass, to dig much deeper. "Like an Arrow," for instance, follows the same trance-like trajectory that makes "You Broke My Heart" so effective. Stark repeats the line, "Heart like an arrow...closer," repeatedly as
the piano and drums build around her. Much like My Bloody Valentine's "Soon," I could listen to it on a permanent loop. I've always agreed with James Brown that when you find a good groove, you should "do it to death," as it were. That they do.

Suffice to say, I'm crazy about this record. Those allergic
to sunshine and flowers are advised to stay far, far away.


Lovin' you is easy 'cause you're beautiful.
-- Minnie Riperton, "Lovin' You" (1974)

Endnote: For more information, please see the band's official website, their MySpace Page, or their Matador Records entry. Lavender Diamond plays Seattle's Sonic Boom on 5/8 at 11pm and The Triple Door on 5/22. Images from Matador and Soul Walking.

No comments: