I Am the West
Love is complicated. What seems to be heading in one direction can catch you off-guard and go someplace else. So too, Lovers depart from the realm of singer/songwriter and venture into the world of electro-pop. Lovers' latest album, I Am the West, opens with catchy synth rhythms coupled with the sweet, airy vocals of Carolyn Berk. And while I esteem female-fronted pop bands who embrace the risks and vulnerabilities of a minimally-produced album, I also want to hear something new. Much to my dismay, I Am the West struggles to differentiate itself from countless other electro-pop albums in circulation.
At first listen, I was distracted by persistent reminders of other bands' music. The meandering synth recalled the great indie bands of the '90s; the pure, exposed vocals ached like those of Mirah (whom she thanked on the CD insert). Don't get me wrong; I still love '90s indie-pop and can't get enough of Mirah, but where is Berk? I caught inconsistent glimpses of her unique sound, and yearned for more. "Tonight" gave me such a glimpse. The song comes together offering an entrancing, lucid and complex composition that opens with orchestral strings and the twang of a slide guitar. Berk's voice enters potent yet whimsical, as she questions a lover's whereabouts.
"I wind through alleys and empty lots, my endless arms are still reaching/But it's your heart, you do with it what you want tonight"
After "Tonight," the album slows down considerably, the songs bleeding one into the next. I waited for another developed tune like "Tonight," but it never came. While the instrumentation was consistently skilled and melodious, the lyrics teetered from charming to downright cheesy. "Confucius say I'm so confused" and "You're a jungle baby, I'm just a little panther" might be sort of funny or endearing in a different context, but ended up detracting from the songs' overall quality. Particularly disappointing were the lyrics of the euphonious acoustic ballad "Stay Another Night." The song pleads a lover to stick around, implying that self-sacrifice is an acceptable route to avoid the pain of losing a partner. Living in a culture saturated with negative stereotypes about submissive and accommodating women, that's not a message I want to hear.
Lovers' latest movement toward electro-pop with I Am the West offers a vitalizing new sound for the band, but struggles to break new ground. Still, there's something to be said for the simplicity of something familiar.