Though Lavender Diamond were on hiatus for most of the 2010s, they couldn't have timed their return more perfectly. Darkness, frustration, and cynicism reached a peak in the years that followed 2012's Incorruptible Heart; with the hopeful, creative pop of 2020's Now Is the Time, Becky Stark and company offer an antidote. While many other artists were commenting on and decrying the issues Lavender Diamond confront on these songs, the band present them in a strikingly different way than their contemporaries. If possible, they sound less bound to musical trends than ever. If you squinted, the openhearted musings of 2007's Imagine Our Love were tangentially similar to the freak-folk of the 2000s, while Incorruptible Heart polished those musings into indie pop anthems. Aside from "Calling on My Nation," the moody call to arms that closes the album, Now Is the Time seems to have emerged from a parallel musical universe. The emotional purity of singer/songwriter pop from the late 1960s and early '70s is still a mainstay of their music; on "Through the Window," the spine-tingling interplay of strings and Stark's vocals calls to mind Chelsea Girl-era Nico. This time, however, their music goes further back, evoking the power of traditional folk and hymnal music to move hearts, as on "Straight Through the Night," where sleigh bells, piano, and Stark's warm soprano come together with sweetly insistent conviction. Though Lavender Diamond's messages on Now Is the Time are clear, they're rarely loud. Instead, they make the most of intimate performances with a small but distinctive palette. "In the Garden" floats along on trumpet flourishes, while the castanets on "Flashback" add a theatricality that only heightens the authenticity of Stark's singing. She has the perfect voice for delivering deeply heartfelt sentiments, whether it's "please plant the seeds of peace with me" on "Please Plant the Seeds" or "each love is full/each love is real/I know there's a way for us to heal" on the ecologically themed "Ocean and Ground." Since the beginning, Lavender Diamond have called for peace, love, and understanding, and Now Is the Time feels both patient and urgent. On "This Is How We Rise" and "In the Middle," the band sing the praises of idealism and resilience, while "New Religion"'s sunny art-pop proves that sometimes a dose of unabashed optimism is just what's needed. Filled with songs for healing, dreaming, and seizing a moment and making it better, Now Is the Time speaks to its era -- and Lavender Diamond's enduring strengths -- eloquently.
Now Is the Time
(LP - Petaluma Records #3)