Earlier this year, Matador Records re-released Lavender Diamond’s The Cavalry of Light EP, and that stunning EP quickly made Lavender Diamond one of my new favorite bands and singer, Becky Stark, one of my favorite new voices. Stark’s mesmerizing soprano paired with the unpretentious songs made a winning combination. That trend continues with their delightful debut LP, Imagine Our Love.
Many of Lavender Diamond’s songs recall the soft pop of the 1970s; the music sometimes a dead ringer for the Carpenters. However, Lavender Diamond’s best songs are inflected with a gospel tinge. Take album opener “Oh No.” The song recalls the repetitive stomp of The Cavalry of Light standout “You Broke My Heart,” and it could easily be seen as a continuation of that song. Stark’s heart was broken and in “Oh No” she wonders “when will I love again?” The music is built around a steady stomp-stomp-clap beat as Steve Gregoropoulos’ pianos swell within the heavy atmosphere. Stark’s voice is clear and shimmers without being showy. Accompanied by the band’s backing vocals, Stark begins each verse with “oh no” and while she describes a “sad and gray day,” there’s an undeniable warmth to the song.
In “Garden Rose,” Stark sounds just like Karen Carpenter in a series of lamentations of her shortcomings. The way these limitations are written show a wry sense of humor. Stark sings that she’ll “never stop a bullet, but a bullet might stop me” and though it reads as humorous the reality is far from it. The play on words and the use of humor give the song an innocent air. Stark sings these songs with such earnestness and sincerity, that the sparse, sometimes humorous lyrics take on a depth of meaning. Similarly, “Like An Arrow” consists of Stark and the band singing “oh like an arrow, closer, closer” over and over again over deliciously tribal stomp. Its growing build creates a tension that never quite reaches a climax, but is still wildly satisfying.
“Open Your Heart” recalls former tourmates, The Decemberists, particularly their song “July July.” Augmented by a string section, “Open Your Heart” is a galloping and uplifting song with Stark encouraging people to “open your heart, tear it apart.” The song is a nice change of pace from the sparser arrangements of the other songs. In a recent interview, Stark said that though her songs are not overtly political, there is sometimes an underlying message. While “Open Your Heart” has no discernible message, it seems to be a perfect rallying cry for the apathetic.
Instead of drawing inspiration from ’70s AM Gold, “My Shadow Is A Monday” lifts more from ’50s girl groups like the Shangri-Las and even sounds like El Perro Del Mar at times. “Bring Me A Song” showcases Steve Gregoropoulos’ wonderfully soulful piano playing. The pairing of Stark’s voice and Gregoropoulos’ piano makes for a lovely torch song. Best of all is the Beatlesque “Here Comes One.” Sounding like it was lifted straight from Revolver, Stark directs her song at someone who has “opened your heart with your mind” and the resulting tune is a giddy, upbeat pop song with a few synth lines thrown in.
Along with My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, Becky Stark has a wonderfully full, clear and gorgeous soprano. While Worden embraces a more gothic sound, Lavender Diamond chooses to use simple musical arrangements and emphasize Stark’s stunning voice. In “Dance Until Tomorrow,” Stark’s voice soars higher and higher and her skill as a singer is startling. That is not to say that the rest of Lavender Diamond don’t do their part. The band members compose arrangements that perfectly complement her voice and they unselfishly let it take center stage. The simple, repetitive lyrics are also utilized to showcase Stark’s voice, using few words to let her voice soar and swell. Imagine Our Love makes a strong case that simple things can result in a stunning end product.
Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
The Carpenters – Singles 1969-1981
The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts