As the leader of NYC indiepop band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Kip Berman & Co. leaned into noisy pop of My Bloody Valentine and the 80’s melodic hooks favored by bands like the Psychedelic Furs and Echo & the Bunnymen. When that band broke up in 2017, Berman traded in city club-life for family life and suburban parenthood when his daughter and then a son were born, and the shift in his music is toward a looser, free flowing folk rock vibe not on like the early days when Bob Dylan was experimenting with electric rock sounds and jamming with The Band.
The aptly titled Tethers finds Berman using The Natvral to explore the two things that connect the tensions in his life, his family and his music; the opening track “Why Don’t You Come Out Anymore?” aiming squarely at dual pulls on his life. “New Year’s Night” is a punchy rocker that shows he’s still got a few pop rock arrows in his quill, but the Neil Young vibe in “Stay In The Country” explores a more expansive possibility. “Sun Blisters” feels like a Dylan re-write of “All the Young Dudes,” with Kyle Forester (Crystal Stilts) playing a churchy organ with all the majesty of Garth Hudson on one of those nights when The Band’s lead guitarist forgot to show up.
“Sylvia, The Cup of Youth” feels like another Dylan folk-rocker, with Berman remembering an old romance and all the changes that life brings as we age and lose track of who we once imagined we’d be. In the closing, “Alone In London” Berman remembers a failed romance ten years gone, while piano and organ build to provide the musical tension in the longest track on the album. But earlier, the gentler finger-picked acoustic guitar of “New Moon” offers the comfort that “you’ll survive another night… and we’ll be alright.” One of life’s most important lessons is that if you hang in there and pay attention that this too will pass, so it’s helpful to have a couple “Tethers” to anchor you to what matters. With The Natvral’s debut, Berman has laid a solid foundation for whatever comes next.
Key Tracks: “Sun Blisters” / “Sylvia, The Cup of Youth” / “New Year’s Night”
Artists With Similar Fire: Bob Dylan with The Band / Neil Young / Paul Westerberg
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb