By the time Portland discovered Lovers, singer-songwriter Carolyn Berk had already begun shedding the "female Conor Oberst" tag that dogged her early days as a teenage folkie in Athens, Ga., transposing her densely poetic, wounded-heart lyrics to catchy electro-pop anthems that registered within the LGBT community and beyond. A Friend in the World, Lovers' seventh album and their second with instrumentalists Emily Kingan and Kerby Ferris, isn't precisely a return to Berk's roots, but it's easy to imagine these songs being performed at an open mic, stripped of their synthetic embellishments. Not that there's much to begin with: Tracks like "Tiger Square" and "Girl in the Grass" are built on simple chord progressions, lilting melodies and pitter-pat percussion, and garnished with sonic ephemera like the xx playing in a feminist bookstore. Berk remains a compelling lyricist—delivered in her pleading, midnight-confessional hush, even "guh?" lines like "the goose with the truth is loose" cut deep—but after introducing a richer palette on previous albums I Am the West and Darklight, the unwavering minimalism here feels like a slight step backward.
SEE IT: Lovers play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Tender Forever and Night Cadet, on Saturday, Sept. 21. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.