The return of Becky Stark
For someone who sings such sad songs, Becky Stark gets called a lot of funny things. A Google search on Lavender Diamond, Stark’s indie-pop quartet, yields a litany of oddball terms: “whimsical,” “winsome,” “impish.” Somehow, Stark’s persona has overpowered her music, though in light of her YouTube presence, it’s not surprising. Lavender Diamond’s music videos are trippy and eccentric, toeing a precarious line between the hopelessly cheesy and the acutely ironic. From a hipster’s perspective, they’re a nightmare. Are we supposed to laugh with them, or at them?
Lavender Diamond’s latest release, Incorruptible Heart, comes five years after their debut album and marks the end of a three-year hiatus, during which time the Los Angeles-based Stark busied herself with such Hollywood-ish endeavors as appearing in a movie with Bill Murray and touring with the reigning queen of quirk, Zooey Deschanel, on her pop-folk side project She & Him. Lavender Diamond’s resurrection came after Stark’s attempt at a solo album proved unsatisfactory. “Many of the songs on Incorruptible Heart are songs I had written for a solo record called Agony, Agony, Agony,” she explains with a laugh when reached by phone in California.
“I tried to make that record, and it was too sad. I couldn’t bring myself to share that with the world.”
Before it was a band, Lavender Diamond first emerged as a character in a puppet opera co-written and performed by Stark while she was living in Providence. “[Lavender Diamond] is a source-energy of love and joy and healing,” says Stark, and it was with this in mind that she took her too-sad material and channeled it through Lavender Diamond’s rose-colored glasses.
Incorruptible Heart is an expansive album that attempts to overshadow darkness with sheer beauty.
Produced by Damian Kulash of OK Go, it dispenses with the acoustic delicacy of the band’s first record, favoring epic percussion and stratospheric arrangements. Another singer might get buried in those cascades of shuddering reverb, but Stark’s pure soprano pierces like sunlight through an overcast sky. From the haunting melismas of “Come Home” to the electro-pop fizz of “Light My Way,” she sings with startling immediacy even as she floats in the ether.
Stark’s songs may originate in personal sorrow, but her lyrics reach past private pain. The opening track on Incorruptible Heart, “Everybody’s Heart’s Breaking Now,” describes environmental destruction as a kind of heartbreak, a deft rhetorical move that turns the political personal: “Oh everybody’s heart’s breakin’ now / When the oceans and the rivers turn brown / And what’s livin’ inside ‘em is drowned.” Such a sentiment could easily be written off as laughably earnest, much like Lavender Diamond’s videos.
“Everything and everyone is connected, [and] there is an unbreakable heart of everything that reveals itself more clearly in the fracture,”
insists Stark with her characteristic mixture of New Age-iness and brains. It might sound farfetched, but what could be more grounded than an all-encompassing love of nature, terrestrial and human alike? In the end, Stark is defined as much by her lofty aspirations as by her slow, incandescent fall back to earth.
WITH SARAH RABDAU AND SELF-EMPLOYED ASSASSINS