Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain Lookout Sea (Drag City 2008) 5.13.8 Eric Nielsen
I was really ready to not like this album and the first few listens confused me. Part of the problem is songs one and two are not the strongest on the disc. So often I'll put a disc away if the opening songs don't hit me. Because of the second song Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer, I was afraid or ready to hate the entire disc. Then Suffering Jukebox came on with it's warbled organ sounds and guitars that remind me of the old Pavement Malkmus. The voice is a very confident older thing that fits the bill, fits the structures and harkens back to a time I can only imagine merged with a modern sound. I think that's where the soul of this disc resides, and this disc slowly grew on me.
The real gem of the album is My Pillow is the Threshold, like classic old school Cash, with a chorus that reeks radio. It gently sweeps the shores with soft backwards guitars and gently feedbacked leads. It moves me. I wonder why this track wasn't placed first on the disc (it has the album title in the lyrics)?
It's a disc that needs an attachment to the voice, to the singer. If you already have that connection with Silver Jews, this disc will please you. If you don't, you must cultivate it. The lyrics are often so cheeky and absurd it's hard to connect to the soul of the singer, to understand the meaning. Maybe there is no meaning and it's all about just having a good time.
I'm a huge Maher Shalal Hash Baz fan (my band Maquiladora played a few shows with them in Japan '04, where we covered, How's Your Bassoon, Turquoirs?) so I was ecstatic to hear Open Field on this disc. It's a perfect pop song that sits easy on the ears, with Tori Kudo's influence. I think he's a genius. Though, other songs I just can't listen to: Candy Jail hurts my ears.
The album art shocked me negatively, as I doubted the absurd elephant cover and the silly live shot on the back were going to transfer into the experience of the music. It's so pop. Though I do love the liner notes of every song in the booklet where the lyrics are all written on hotel stationary.
As you can see, I'm torn on this record. Some of it is really nice; other parts are embarrasing for me to listen to. I think I've grown out of this sound and that smarmy Pavement style perfect guitar and then a wise voice pops out of somewhere and I check back in. Is it all tongue in cheek? Is this what the kids yearn for? What's the catch? And then We Could Be Looking For the Same Thing comes on and it really strikes the heart with meaningful lyrics and a vibe of interesting honesty. Cassie Berman lends some integrity to the singing. Whenever I hear her voice it sounds less like a spoof and more like something that interests me.
Intersted in an enigma? You might like this disc. A Threshold of a Kingdom may be upon you. If not you might be really disappointed. Where's the whacked out fucked up? Where's the artist freak out? Where's the beauty? Where's the complexity? Dig deep for gold, you may find it. Tire of toiling, you may walk away shaking your head.