I hate reading late reviews. Honestly, whoever dares pen their views on a product already weeks old on the shelf is an oblivious dick, more concerned with the expulsion of their own scattered thoughts than with the task of imparting useful information to the reader.
Having said that, I’m reviewing a record that came out in June. Not only because I’m a willfully oblivious, grumpy old hypocrite, but also because this record, “Lookout Mountain Lookout Sea” by The Silver Jews, celebrates the brooding, judgmental behavior of men like me. In “My Pillow is the Threshold,” lead David Berman grumbles, “I unplug all the neon, turn the ringer off the phone / throw my thoughts like tomahawks into this world which I disown.” I wish I could make my self-obsessed sulking sound so romantic.
As a veteran of the independent label boom of the 1990s, and having formed his band with Pavement’s Steven Malkmus, Berman is licensed to direct some of his tomahawks at the artifice of hipsterdom, and the supposed mainstream success of “indie” music which has taken place in the last few years. This exploration is most pointed on “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat,” in which Berman asks, “What’s with all the handsome grandsons in these rock band magazines? / And what have they done with the fat ones? /The bald and the goatee’d?” To a lesser extent, the accoutrements of the “scene” scene and the are playfully mocked in “San Fransisco B.C.” with references to wearing sarcastic hair, general lewdness and vocal martyrdom in the vegan press.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Silver Jews are the only country act you’ll find today with lyrics that could be classified as “clever.” (There is some argument over whether the Silver Jews are, in fact, country.) Their cleverness has been around for the last five records yes, but with “Lookout Mountain” it’s managed in a way that uses a much wider range of expression than simple wry humor.
Take “Suffering Jukebox,” which employs the most brilliant personification I’ve ever heard in a song to empathize with the ignored jukebox full of sad country songs: “suffering jukebox in a happy town / You’re over in the corner breaking down / And they always seem to keep you way down low / The people in this town don’t want to know.” Berman’s wife, Cassie, takes lead vocals on the chorus, and she sounds like a proper honky-tonk diva – just the right amount of twang and melodrama. Crank this number up and have a good cry in your pitcher of beer.
Don’t think that this is one long mope though – the record features some of the most uppity-up performances in the Jews’ catalog; “Aloysius Bluegrass Drummer,” is a fast and rough rocker, with the kind of frantic upright piano line you’d expect from a western saloon pianist with a six-shooter held against his skull. “Party Barge” is almost as fun. “Things get kinda squirrelly when you’re sleeping in the park,” Berman tactfully informs us.
Okay, so I admit this review comes a bit late and incoherent from its geriatric author, but hey – I know a lot of you out there haven’t heard this band yet, let alone this record and you just need to. Disenfranchised country music listener looking for something smarter? Confused neo-hipster ready to look for music outside of the iTunes music store? This could be a new beginning for you.