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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Ghost of Karen Carpenter Lives On

Posted by on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Becky Sharp
  • Photo by Autumn de Wilde
  • Becky Sharp
Lavender Diamond
Incorruptible Heart
(Paracadute)

I was surprised to find, when I picked up the latest album from Los Angeles quartet Lavender Diamond, that they were no longer on Matador, but OK GO's imprint, Paracadute (OG front man Damian Kulash also produced the LP).

Did Matador drop them or did they take their leave? (After all, the label has stuck by the unpredictable Cat Power through thick and thin, though I would assume her releases sell reliably well.) As enthusiastic as I was about 2007's Imagine Our Love, the group's full-length debut, I'm guessing the former.

There's nothing inaccessible about the exquisite pop of Incorruptible Heart, but it exists outside trends, like the waning freak folk*, and yet it isn't quite slick enough for the Starbucks crowd. (On the new record, I'm hearing the influence of such diverse acts as the Carpenters, Harry Nilsson, ELO, and Giorgio Moroder.)

Nonetheless, they thank Arthur publisher Jay Babcock in the liner notes, which reinforces the freak-folk association, since the recently revitalized magazine helped to promote the careers of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, and Lavender Diamond's work isn't worlds away—it's just softer and sweeter.

* Wikipedia also classifies them as New Weird America, a term I've never heard anyone use.

And therein lies the rub. Singer-songwriter Becky Sharp is a classically trained soprano with a predilection for tutus and pastels. In interviews, she likes to talk about world peace and other Utopian notions. (Sample lyric: "There's a perfect love for me.") I don't think it's an act, but it's a turn-off for listeners who prefer more shading to their music and to the people who make it—even if the band got Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) to mix the thing. No one will ever confuse Sharp for Zola Jesus, but that's like elevating the tragic Sandy Denny over the resilient Vashti Bunyan when I can appreciate the virtues of both.

At first glance, I'm not enjoying the more wide-ranging Incorruptible Heart as much as the more cohesive Imagine Our Love, but I find Sharp's crystal-clear voice irresistible. The band buffets her flights of fancy with piano, chimes, and finger-snaps plus guest contributions from M. Ward and the Calder Quartet. I picked the album up a few days after Soft Moon's Zeros, and it's the exact opposite (even if both outfits call California home). Sometimes I need a break from the cynical stuff, and I can always count on Sharp to get the job done.


She looks a lot like Glinda the Good Witch in this video.


Stream Incorruptible Heart here. Lavender Diamond plays The Sunset on Dec 13.

 

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