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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 09:52 am

A ganache of tweeness

Lavender Diamond, despite itself, is an amazing band

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Lavender Diamond Imagine Our Love (Matador)
Untitled Document Once you get past the stupid name, the simplistic songwriting, and the almost uniformly abysmal lyrics, Lavender Diamond is a really great band — but isn’t that like saying that George W. Bush would be a really great president if it weren’t for his policies? When does a drawback (or two or three) turn into a deal-breaker? Fair questions, perhaps, but they’re irrelevant to the glory that is Lavender Diamond. True, the band name comes off like the punchline to a bad lesbian joke. And, yes, the lyrics could have been cribbed from Chicken Soup for the Hippie’s Soul. Still more damning, most of the song structures make the average jump-rope chant sound like a Bach Invention. Any one of these weaknesses could spell doom for either a worse or a better band, which somehow makes Lavender Diamond all the more amazing.
The follow-up to 2005’s raptly received EP The Cavalry of Light, Imagine Our Love — Lavender Diamond’s first official full-length — is already burdened with some heavy-duty expectations. The LA-based quartet, which comprises singer Becky Stark, guitarist Jeff Rosenberg, pianist Steve Gregoropolous, and percussionist Ron Regé, has accumulated a ton of hype in a very short time. For those who believe that a band should slog away for decades in noble anonymity before getting its big break, this breach of etiquette is intolerable. If the backlash hasn’t started yet, give it five minutes. But first Lavender Diamond should get the chance to be heard on its own merits. The first thing you’ll notice is that Stark can sing, and not in the way that, say, your little sister or the chick in Arcade Fire can sing. She originally trained to be an opera singer but gave it up at 17, when her voice teacher informed her that her too-small ribcage and history of asthma would make a professional career unlikely, if not impossible. Opera’s loss is indie rock’s gain. Stark might not make anyone forget about Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, but she’s spectacularly overqualified for her new gig, in which an ability to sing on key is not always, or even usually, a prerequisite. Her voice, a tangy soprano with just the teensiest hint of vibrato, is pitch-perfect and pure of tone, but it’s also appealingly human. Unlike so many classically trained pop singers, she doesn’t indulge in scary diva drama-mongering; she sings with an incandescent softness that brings to mind ringing bells and enchanted nightingales, the kind of timbre that soothes as it thrills. Though she occasionally evokes other singers — a young Olivia Newton-John, Vashti Bunyan, Sandy Denny, Jackie DeShannon — she doesn’t really sound like anyone else. With a singer this gifted, the primary responsibility of a backing band is to stay the hell out of the way, and Stark’s bandmates seem to have accepted this dictum. They’re all good musicians — particularly Gregoropolous, whose frolicsome runs, cavernous chords, and rumbling ostinatos typically ground the arrangements — but they let their frontwoman take center stage. Even in the more lushly orchestrated songs (“Bring Me a Song,” “I’ll Never Lie Again”), in which French horns, strings, and woodwinds threaten to coat everything in a thick ganache of tweeness, Stark’s light remains undimmed. Ranging from the brisk ’60s-steeped pop of “Open Your Heart” and “Here Comes One” to the ambling country-Martian of “The Garden Rose” and the mantralike chamber folk of “Oh No” and “When You Wake for Certain,” Imagine Our Love varies in style but never in substance. Its repetitiveness and preciousness, the grinding prettiness of it, aren’t so much flaws as essential signifiers, proof that this diamond is no cubic zirconium.
Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.
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