"IT'S ALL DEAD energies in this town/It's all pedantry and pedigree in this town/I needed an answer/I needed a song/I wanna be a dancer/when the music comes on."
Then the drums kick in, and a plinking jittery synth, as Carolyn Berk's fierce and urgent voice sings, "I am here and brave/You're gonna want me someday." The song is "To Be a Dancer (I Am Alive)," and it's an anthemic high point on the newest album from Portland band Lovers, the just-released Dark Light.
Dark Light is a high-reaching record, its best songs finding heartfelt middleground between the unadorned sincerity of Berk's voice and a synth-driven backdrop courtesy of collaborator Kerby Ferris. Rounding out the trio is Emily Kingan on drums, formerly of Portland queercore band the Haggard.
Long a project of Berk's—she's released five albums to date under the Lovers moniker—Dark Light is the second album in its current incarnation. At first listen, Dark Light is a thornier, darker piece of work than the trio's previous release, I Am the West—that album marked Berk's departure from singer/songwriter territory, harnessing her poetic lyrics to a handful of yearning, intelligent pop songs. The strength of I Am the West was apparent on first listen; Dark Light is slow burning but ultimately no less compelling.
The three members of Lovers currently live together; in our interview, they swap inside jokes and finish each other's sentences as they give me a CliffsNotes version of the evolution of the band.
"I love to write really quiet songs, introspective songs, but I found after years and years of exploring that, I don't like performing that. I decided that I wanted to bring a different energy to a room," Berk explains. "I wanted to bring more joy to wherever I was traveling."
She attributes some of her newfound equanimity to her move to Portland, and some to the simple fact of aging. "Turning 30 introduces an element of ease where there used to be none," Ferris agrees. "I cannot wait for our postmenopausal band.
"The direction we're all moving toward is one of greater awareness and reverence for intuition—learning to do things not out of fear, even if there's no proof that it's going to work out," Ferris continues, but Kingan interjects. "I don't know if I necessarily share those sentiments," she says. "For me it's more because I have a lot of respect and trust for my bandmates, and a lot of passion for the type of music that we make." It's metaphorically appropriate that it's the drummer who grounds the conversation, adding a pragmatic counterpoint to her bandmates' loftier ideas. (It probably also helps that Kingan is a tax accountant; a 2009 Accounting Today profile began, "Emily Kingan knows how to drum up business.")
While they might disagree on the particulars, the three women are clearly enthusiastic about the direction Lovers is moving in. And Berk is sharpening her songwriting skills: Lyrics like "I've been called the boy who cried wolf/thinking it was just my glass half full/I jumped in some nearly empty pools" beg to be written on a three-ring notebook in Sharpie. In the long run, whether Lovers splinters apart or goes on to form the world's best postmenopausal lesbian jam band—as long as their work remains grounded in Berk's songwriting, I'll keep listening.