Like a handmade Hello Kitty lunchbox, Lovers, out of Portland, splices pop ephemera with DIY freshness and honesty. A Friend In the World’s perky synthetic keyboards and dance rhythms conjure princess pink diva-pop, but singer Carolyn Berk weaves knowing cock-eyed melancholy through it all. It’s like Mirah’s peppiest dance party ever, like cold wave synth revival warmed to bath temperature. Someone never told the women of Lovers – Berk, Emily Kingan and Kerby Ferris – that electropop had to be chilly and inhumane. Their version breathes and sighs and confides, even as it urges the girls to dance.
Lovers are a power trio, more or less, though bereft of the preening guitar-centrism that usually defines such enterprises. Berk is the instigator , a singer, guitarist and songwriter whose solo project has blossomed into this. She has a charcoal shadowy voice that slides into and around melodies, hazing bright melodies with ambiguity. Kingan plays the drums, pounding explosive, tonal, off-kilter fills have a whiff of Phil Collins (listen to how she rampages in “Tiger Square” the only exclamation point in a sea of slithery ellipses). Ferris is the synth player, strewing silvery tones, hatching bubbling plots, filling out stark disco beats into viscous rotundity. Two of or more them sing, weaving sinuous counterparts into primary colored tunes. The effect is not silvery and harmonic like, say, Grass Widow, but rather warm and twining, like kudzu vines that criss and cross and double back.
The best songs here cloud the certainties of commercial pop with a hazy ambiguity, hanging gauzy massed vocals off the structural underpinnings of dance pop. “Lavender Light,” for instance, pulses with staccato electronic bleats and blots, and reaches, with its chorus for the fist in the air catharses of Miley-ish pop. Yet in an artform usually drawn in stick figures, Berk and her mates shade with delicacy. Berk’s voice never rises over a murmur, never glosses over its vulnerability. She is flanked by soft harmonies, deep banks of synthesizer sound. It’s a pop song sensitive enough to wrap in cotton batting.
Still, you can’t help but feel that these Lovers are holding back a little, that in among the perfectly curved and artfully revealing melodies, they might have slipped a few shouts and groans. Friend in the World is utterly pleasant, idiosyncratic and charming, but it doesn’t bite very deep.
DOWNLOAD: “Lavender Light” “Tiger Square”