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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Silver Jews

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)

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David Berman’s latest is an album where the sleeve art outshines the record itself. Think of your most hated prog album (is it Yes’ Topographic Oceans? I bet it’s Yes’ Topographic Oceans) and you’ll get the picture. A beautiful sepia-tone painting depicting Babar (that’s right; the beloved elephant) amidst jagged rocks on a turbulent sea does however seem oddly appropriate for Berman’s post addiction/failed suicide attempt vision for his band.

  And the tunes themselves have their merits. Berman’s playful as ever with clever twists of phrases and lo-fi hooks. It’s not so much a progression from 2005’s Tanglewood Numbers but more so a continuation. Only this time there’s no Stephen Malkmus tossing off solos and licks, pulling the Jews even further from the Pavement-side-project label they’ve often been hampered with—both a blessing for Berman and possibly a drawback for more narrow-minded fans.

  Progression must be difficult for a band so closely entwined in one of indie-rock’s greatest mythos. “Aloysius, Blugrass Drummer” comes off like a Ben Folds Five pastiche when Berman’s stripped-down songwriting is coupled with technical precision (here a rollicking piano). Berman’s whiskey and milk voice has progressed, however. On the six-minute “San Francisco B.C.” he sounds something like a Gen-x Johnny Cash for a Dylanesque story song complete with fight scene and twist ending. With its rolling beat it’s destined to become a live staple.

  LookoutMountain’s not necessarily a step forward. But it is a worthy inclusion in the band’s catalog.