Some albums, like dreams, or some books, possess a perfect, powerful, unshakable internal logic that evaporates in daylight. This is one of them. I’ve found myself telling people that Lovers are simple and pure, even though their music is anything but. Tender manifestos and lullaby fables for surrealist romantics, Carolyn Berk’s songs are full of breathless melancholy and a sinking, infinite sadness. In them you hear hints of the circus-funeral magic-realist run-on folk song of Neutral Milk Hotel, the dreamy twilight grandeur of Mazzy Star, Bright Eyes’ last-gasp heartstring soliloquies, and the ghost-haunted majesty of Magnetic Fields’ loneliest highways. But I’ll be damned if Berk isn’t a more entrancing spell caster than any of them.
The group are from Athens — though Berk has been splitting her time between there and Boston recently — and this is their second CD. A traditional quiet-rock quartet here fleshed out with an Elephant 6–style mutant orchestra of muted trumpets and treated banjo and strings and subtle tape manipulations, Lovers are tragic and unbound by skin or soul. In "Now That You’re a Ghost" and "No Words Allowed" — the latter could be Kansas’s "Dust in the Wind" if it had been written by Jeff Mangum for Chan Marshall — Berk fashions cemetery-pretty fairy tales out of nothing more immaculate than the notion that true love is stronger than death. But the most spectral corners of Starlit are the songs, like "Winter Takes a Lover" and the opening "I Believe in Outer Space," that hold out the possibility that all of us, every living thing and a great many non-living things to boot, eventually meet the thing that completes us best, even if we don’t get to keep it.
(Lovers play Tír na n-Óg in Somerville’s Union Square this Saturday, October 25, and the Berwick Research Institute in Roxbury this Sunday, October 26. Call 617-628-4300 and 617-442-4400.)