Lovers - Dark Light
I was just out of my teenage years when I was first introduced to the music of Carolyn Berk and her project Lovers, and the songs on her debut Starlit Sunken Ship seemed tailor-made for those formative years of yearning and contemplation and frequent silence and the chafing between the child and adult selves. But like a teenager itself, the music of Berk has grown out of its adolescence. While “young” is often a way to denote naivety, Berk’s young music was no less true or touching despite its naïveté or dark sweetness. Tracks like “I Believe in Outer Space,” “Peppermint” and “Dream Lover/ Squid Suit” were soul-exposing but not preachy, and the occasional maudlin dips were buoyed by rich arrangements that seemed constructed by much older ears.
After her debut album, Berk made a conscientious effort to minimalize. 2004’s The Gutter and the Garden was an effort to find a cleaner, less cluttered voice, but the formula was sometimes too sparing. But Sleep With Heat in 2006 managed to cut the excess while showcasing Berk’s rapidly rising talents as a songwriter. Three years later the band released I Am the West, an album that integrated electronics into what was formerly an acoustic-based, often hushed musical atmosphere. Lovers had some growing pains evolving from the band they once were to the one they wanted to become – songs on I Am The West were weirdly hookless and flat. But again, it just took time for the ingredients to coalesce, and Dark Light (out in October) is a fuller, more varied and joyous collection of tracks.
Lovers have since become a trio, and the added contributions to dynamics of their sound have all been positive. Berk is now joined by Kerby Ferris and Emily Kingan, and while Dark Light still contains vintage Carolyn Berk songwriting, it’s as if the burden of constructing all this sound and mood has been spread to capable and ready hands. Live, especially, the inclusion of drums, back-up vocals and live electronics help broaden the reach of these songs. The same holds true for the album itself, of course. The songs here bristle with waves of sound punctuated by tough percussion and an insistence not found on Berk’s other records. While the lyrics still exhibit a strong romantic streak (“Boxer don’t knock me down/ Writer, don’t write me out”) the content is fuller, and the protagonists of the songs are ready to embrace and engage with the world at large. Like the statement of purpose on “To Be A Dancer (I Am Alive) -“I want to be a dancer/ when the music comes on,” or “Raise your flag/ It’s do or die” – these new songs exhibit a tangible link with the past that doesn’t preclude new directions, new sounds, or discovery. Though Berk’s past albums may always be connected to a very specific time and place for her earlier listeners, her sound has managed to grow as we do.