Dark Light marks the fourth album Carolyn Berk has made under the Lovers moniker, but it’s only the second album she’s recorded with her current lineup. Sonically, Light follows in the footsteps of last year’s release, I Am the West. Berk eschews singer-songwriter trappings for synths and drum machines and shelves a navel-gazing, heartbroken outlook in favor of an open, optimistic attitude.
By virtue of being feminists with keyboards, Lovers garner a fair amount of Le Tigre comparisons. But by Berk’s own admission, being pegged as a “radical feminist lesbian” is too reductive for the kind of overarching, universal concerns she addresses in her music. In an interview with Venus Zine, Berk describes herself as a humanist — and her inclusive, expansive lyrics hold up to her self-analysis. Dark Light‘s strongest track, “Figure 8,” is a pretty evocative depiction of a same-sex couple whose love and mutual devotion defies sociopolitical barriers (“They try to shame us out of loving, darlin’/ But they don’t pray as hard as I ache”). But it’s also kind of a playful, funny courtship indicative of the album’s light-hearted analysis of relationship intricacies.
This mischevious streak is a welcome change from 2002’s Starlit Sunken Ship, which featured confessional lyrics braced by a Lilith Fair-ready lineup of acoustic guitars flanked by pining, politely muted strings. And for a generation that cloaks romance in a thick blanket of irony and indifference, an acoustic guitar, your feelings, and a stage isn’t a fail-safe strategy for getting laid, anyway. Playing coy has a better success rate, and Berk capitalizes on this, furtively sneaking outsized innuendo like, “I’ll take you on a wild ride/ If you slip your ship into my sea” into your ear before you realize what’s going on. Slippery indeed.
It’s not just a lyrical shift that helps elevate Lovers’ latest effort beyond the trappings of typical singer/songwriter-dom. Synth-programmer Kerby Ferris and percussionist Emily Kingan give energy to some of the weightier subject matter. Their loops, riffs, and beats sound a bit ’80s pop-dated, and this anachronistic production gives the songs a homemade quality, weaving a thread between the bedroom and the club. Standout track “Peppermint” is an especially good example of this strength. It’s an electronic reinterpretation of the same song that appeared on Lovers’ first album, and the plaintive, insistent synth riff that props up the song adds a sensual urgency absent from the original version.
It bears mentioning that electronic music’s circular qualities are an excellent — and appropriate — package for an album about female sexuality. Femininity has always been visually expressed with circular imagery, and repetition and continuity tend to be the hallmarks of piecing a song together from samples and loops. Berk’s lyrics are also replete with circular imagery, and consumed with the idea of constant transformation — from both personal and universal perspectives. The figure 8; finding out love “don’t end”; thriving solely on each other’s love; the repeated refrain that closes out “Peppermint” that goes “redefine God as something that you want.” Depending on your degree of cynicism, this mindset is either fodder for bumper stickers slapped on so many Volkswagen Jettas, or a compelling (and often needed) reminder that you have the power to change your circumstances and what dictates your actions and beliefs. In “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Berk repeatedly intones “Babe, I swear I’m on a path.” And based on the strength and cohesiveness of Light, it appears Berk’s found the right path for her thoughts to walk.