Travel back in time to 2011. There was a nuclear disaster in Japan, Osama Bin Laden was caught and killed, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart adorned the cover of Loud And Quiet, Issue 26. A decade and change, in these inflationary days, seems even more like a lifetime ago—something said band’s former frontperson, Kip Berman, can relate to as he returns with another solo record as The Natvral.
Shifting from singing about the thrills of his youth to the creep of routine that comes with raising a young family, time and place are prominent themes on Summer of No Light. A slow press of a pandemic album, it’s a direct reflection of Berman retreating to his basement with a guitar to let his imagination wander into more dimly lit places – like historic climate crises and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
“After putting my children to bed, I spent many a late night in the basement with my guitar and let my mind wander to the places where I could no longer go,” he shares in the release notes. “The routines of domesticity were often unwelcome, and always exhausting – but probably mentally helpful. I was isolated, but not alone.”
A quick skim through the song titles and both ‘Lucifer’s Glory’ and ‘Summer of Hell’ conjure a literal, overt darkness but ultimately continue the autobiographical themes Berman established on his solo debut. Even as he unpacks subjects like domestic responsibility under Covid duress and rocky beginnings with his wife, the Americana twang of ‘The Stillness’ and ‘Carolina’ still feel rousing, ‘Glass of Laughter’ (a song seemingly about a relationship fraying at the ends) waltzes along on the surface, and album closer ‘Wintergreen’, for all of its lovelorn weight, finds a heartfelt, Neil Young-shaped sweet spot. An album full of songcraft, lurking darkness has rarely sounded so lovely.