David Berman of Silver Jews could be considered an elder statesman of American indie, fifteen years after The Arizona Record came out. Like past collaborator Stephen Malkmus his music still sounds vital, but while Malkmus has switched direction on his latest release, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea sees Berman exploring similar terrain to his previous work.
Silver Jews at Explosions in the Sky ATP. Photo by James.
The results are great – Berman is still a master of catchy, countrified indie and his turn of phrase is as sharp as ever. I had to do a double take when opener ‘What is Not But Could Be If…’ came through my speakers: Berman’s vocals have always sounded well-worn, but in the first minute they bore some resemblance to Johnny Cash at his most grave and majestic on the American releases.
The tone of the music (although not always the lyrics) lightens with the polka-rock of ‘Aloyisius, Bluegrass Drummer’ and a barnstorming duet with his wife on ‘Suffering Jukebox’, which references past addictions beautifully: “While these seconds turn these minutes into hours of the day / While these doubles drive the dollars and the light of day away”. The farcical tale ‘San Franscisco B.C.’ is up there with Dylan’s early talkin’ blues numbers for hilarity.
I’m drawn to the Silver Jews for much the same reasons I’m drawn to Will Oldham – their unique approach to familiar, established musical forms and how the lyrical concerns of love, death, addiction and human folly that course through the music are so eloquently expressed as to make you sigh at just how right they’ve got it.
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is out next Monday (2nd June) in the UK on Drag City.
MP3: Strange Victory, Strange Defeat (via Drag City)