Summer of No Light is due Sept. 1 via Dirty Bingo Records
“Don’t let the title fool you— It’s not a full throated “Hail Satan,” but it is full throated. I suppose I could’ve called it “Paradise Lust.” When you hit rock bottom, but wish you could fall deeper- when you’re proud to lose, ‘cuz you know the kind of people who win- when only what’s missing remains…Sure, It’s perverse, crushing, and wrong. But it’s also alright. There were other options, but only one choice. That’s Lucifer’s Glory.” -Kip Berman
“These songs live somewhere between the climate crisis of 1816, the climate crisis of now, and the climate crisis of the heart,” says Kip Berman. “You might say it’s a gothic record—but the house isn’t haunted. The ghosts moved out years ago, but I still get their mail from time to time.”
On his second album as The Natvral – a spirited, beautifully observed collection of rough and ready songcraft – the former Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontperson was eyeing the past while dealing with an inescapable present. In 2020, in the early stages of lockdown, Berman began writing songs that reflected on a world that had seemingly ended – while contending with the needs of his young family seeking solace in the familiar. “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 says. “Initially, a lot of the songs were about getting as far away from the reality of my moment as possible.”
He drew parallels with another tumultuous summer. “The record’s title, Summer of No Light, is taken from the climate crisis of 1816,” he says. Often referred to as The Year Without a Summer, that year a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia darkened much of the world’s sky. The resulting ash brought dramatic global cooling and widespread famine, hitting Western Europe especially hard.
But it was during the present climate crisis – this one very much of humanity’s design – that he began to think about the people who were holed up during those times while creating their own form of escapist art. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written that same summer,” he says. “Like me, she was among the relatively fortunate who could take shelter,” famously riding out the foul weather in Switzerland on Lake Geneva with her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont (Mary’s half-sister and Byron’s paramour) embarking on a ghost story contest (she won), as well as many less cerebral ways to pass the time. “I found the idea of these people sustaining themselves through art, while fucking and getting fucked up, both familiar and foreign.
Faced with the endless rituals and work reproducing some normalcy and joy for two small children (then just 18 months and 4 years) when even the sandbox, slides, and swings were cordoned off with police tape, Berman’s imagination began to stretch out even further in the few moments he had to himself. “Maybe I was embarking on a few ghost stories myself,” he says. “Indulging in a kind of gothic fantasy of tragic loves and lost friends while a more banal specter loomed on milk cartons, suburban playground equipment, and the very breath of conversation.” But Berman is quick to make clear that his labors weren’t solitary or even notable, but in tandem with his partner. “Don’t feel bad for me, my wife pulled long days working from home – and still found time to be present for all of us.”
While he initially sought escape from the isolation in which he found himself, soon the solace of home and family life began to seep its way into the music “The routines of domesticity were often unwelcome, and always exhausting – but probably mentally helpful. I was isolated, but not alone.” Despite the many graveyard romps that populate the record, it’s the moments that celebrate home that gives this album its heart.
For a record written in a time of enormous constraint, Summer of No Light sounds defiantly free. The opening “Lucifer’s Glory” has the kind of punchy, rousing, almost triumphant chorus that Springsteen himself would envy; while “Summer of Hell” charges along infectiously, with its melodic refrain conjuring exultant feelings in stark opposition to a spurned lover who can “write it down for somedays that you know will never come.” For every song about death or absence – that loss isn’t for nought. “Those unwelcome experiences give us the ability to see the shape of what life is more fully.” As he sings on “Lucifer’s Glory,” “It’s the kind of loss you don’t live without.”
Look past the more lurid paeans to tragic figures and lost time, and you’ll find another side of the record that is unabashedly domestic. “Your Temperate Ways” sings of a lover who is as keen to make the bed as sully it. Even the nod to The Book of the Dead in “Wait for Me” (I’ve got money ‘neath my tongue, if that’s what you require) is as much about what is needed to be loved and accepted in this world as the next. Ditto “A Glass of Laughter,” that captures the allure and limits of a lover who, “could not buy you winter gloves, but always took your hand.” On album closer, “Wintergreen,” Berman’s dialogue between his own history and the present is at its most potent, as he reflects back on the tumultuous early stages of his relationship with his now wife. “When I found you in the snowbank, never wanting to come home – I knew you were the one I’d die with, I think I’d die for you to know.” he sings. “I’m far from a teenage runaway beholden to only my art and pleasure,” he says, once again looping back to Shelley. “And though there are moments where that sounds tempting, this music would not exist if I were.”
The immediacy that radiates from the record is due, in no small part, to the fact that it was recorded mostly live in one week with Berman’s long-time collaborator Andy Savours (Black Country New Road, My Bloody Valentine, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) in London. “I was listening to a bunch of Silver Jews, Neil Young, Karen Dalton, Leonard Cohen, and Ezra Furman – the kind of singers that strained to see into the dimly lit moments of life.” “The way we recorded it felt very much in step with the hope I had when I started this project,” he says. “Which was: I just want to pick up my guitar and sing – whether it’s by myself or with a band, whether it’s for a handful of friends in a basement or something more. Andy, to his credit, never let me deviate from that ideal.”
Summer of No Light is an album that’s born of a precise moment, yet revels in anachronism.
Collapsing time to make a little bit of sense of this one, Berman feels artistically rejuvenated,
drawing on histories large and small to breathe new life and perspective on his own. “It was a time that is now almost unspeakable – not because the tragedy was too profound or in any way trivial – but because we were all there.”
Press photo courtesy of the artist
Summer Of No Light
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2023
Summer of Hell
A Glass of Laughter
Stephanie Don’t Live Here Anymore
Your Temperate Ways
Wait for Me