Wait, didn't I have a "no butterfly wings in the band" moratorium after that horrible Smashing Pumpkins album came out in the '90s? I swore I did. Just like I had the "no long-sleeve shirts worn in conjunction with shorts" post-grunge rule, or the always popular, "no face paint, or masks, in metal" rule. Yet here I find myself not just listening to, but absolutely loving, Lavender Diamond. A band that, as you will see by the photo to the right, feels that it is absolutely acceptable to be pictured sporting those damn butterfly wings.
So what kind of person wears butterfly wings in promo photos and expects to be taken seriously? Well, Becky Stark does. The Lavender Diamond founder and singer has a bit of a hippie streak in her. But before you turn this page, please let me explain. Her "hippie," is in the most pure and perfect form, consisting of all the genuine ideals (peace and love, mostly) and without any of the downsides (baby dreads, didgeridoos, foot bags). She is the poster child for all that could, but never really did, come out of the flower power generation. Before our parents stumbled from protesting a war to heavy drugs to eventually voting for Reagan, there was something worthwhile there; it's just been buried beneath years of misdirected nostalgia and young trust-funders with Jer-Bear posters on their dorm room walls.
To understand the (good) hippie aspect of Lavender Diamond, understand that the one constant in their music is world peace. No, seriously... stop laughing. The one predictable wish of all beauty pageant contestants, world peace seems to be a given, right? Who'd be against that? But pick up a newspaper and witness a world on the cusp of the third world war, and then their goal doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all. It's a lopsided topic in their songs, like Cypress Hill and their weed or Johanna Newsome and her rainbows, but it's a noble goal, nevertheless.
Pre-butterfly wings, the gypsy-like travels of Stark in her formative years are a key element to the worldliness of this band. These adventures took her from heaven (singing in church) to hell (singing in a youth choir that opened for Skid Row at the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival), and eventually to creating the Lavender Diamond persona as a character in a traveling operetta.
Released earlier this year, Imagine Our Love is everything a debut album should be. The baroque pop of Lavender Diamond channels the ambition of Phil Spector, the free association of that freak folk scene the kids are talking about, and the humanistic charm of Rilo Kiley. Texturally thick with weaving orchestration, soft harmonies, and Stark's bare vocals, the record strives for more than just a pleasant reaction. Imagine Our Love wants it all. It's the overambitious debut work that was years in the making, the sort of record that makes you pity the band for having to deal with the monumental task of topping it years down the line. Granted, if the world erupts in peace, then making a good sophomore album will be the least of Lavender Diamond's worries. Until that happens, I'm pinning my hopes on a hippie with butterfly wings—moratorium be damned.