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Silver Jews - Early Times 1990-1

  by Jon Rogers

published: 26 / 6 / 2012

Silver Jews - Early Times 1990-1
Label: Drag City
Format: CD


Endearing and revelatory collection of early lo-fi recordings from continuously underrated New York band, the Silver Jews

Despite any sort of revisionism about just how popular the Silver Jews were, the band led by David Berman, were really the cult band's cult band. Never mind what some Shoreditch poseur might now tell you, they really hadn't heard of them during the band's life time. As Berman put it in an interview in 2002: "Silver Jews have never been the belles of the ball." Not that the band did themselves any favours. Berman formed the original line-up of the band with guitarist Stephen Malkmus and drummer Bob Nastanovich, who were also playing in Pavement. And the band were hardly prolific in their output. Although formed in 1989 their first album was released in 1994 and their first ever tour was in 2005, and then only in the United States. It is hardly surprising , that the Silver Jews passed by the 2 kool 4 skool indie kid in skinny jeans wandering the streets of Shoreditch, supposedly with his ear attuned to the 'underground'. While their first record wasn't released until the mid-90s the band did put out the odd record before that and it is the hard-to-find releases of the single 'Dime Map of the Reef' from 1990 and the EP 'The Arizona Record', released three years later that make up this trawl through the band's initial statements. For those only familiar with the later releases of 'Tanglewood Numbers' and 'Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea' these early recordings are going to be a revelation. The basic building blocks are already in place - the mixture of indie guitar, country rock and lo-fi aesthetics, but it lacks the sheen of a good polish and the later examples of harmonisation. Instead on 'Early Times' it really is lo-fi quality, the sort of thing that would rival Daniel Johnston's early recordings, like 'Songs of Pain'. In fact, the opening 'Canada' could very well have been by Johnston, if he'd been bothered to form a band. Rudimentary doesn't quite do these recordings justice. The country-rock tinge is played down and the feel of 'recorded in the bedroom directly onto a cassette player' is to the fore. Which doesn't mean it's bad, far from it. Just rough and ready and unpolished. While Berman's dry, sardonic wit and word play is still in its infancy, these recordings indicate much more of a willingness to experiment. While later albums would showcase more conventional songwriting abilities, here 'September 1999', 'SVM F.T. Troops' and 'The Unchained Melody' all wouldn't feel so out of place sitting alongside early releases by Truman's Water or even Pavement. It would be easy to dismiss these recordings on technical merit. They're poorly recorded in this digital age of 'perfection' (whatever that might be). The singing's often flat, bum notes are struck, chords jar, timings go astray and reach exceeds grasp almost every time. Yet these early recordings are charming and endearing and all the better for being rough around the edges.

Track Listing:-
1 Canada
2 The Walnut Falcon
3 September 1999
4 Svm F.T. Troops
5 The Unchained Melody
6 Secret Knowledge of Back Roads
7 I Love The Rights
8 Jackson Nightz
9 The War In Apartment 1812
10 West S
11 You Can't Trust It To Remain
12 The Wild Palms
13 Welcome To The House Of The Bats
14 Bar Scene From Star Wars

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Interview (2008)
Silver Jews - Interview
Despite having first formed in 1994, Nashville-based alt.country band the Silver Jews only played their first gig three years ago. Frontman David Berman talks to Mark Rowland about why his group just started touring so recently and their new album, 'Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea'

live reviews

ULU, London, 29/5/2008
Silver Jews - ULU, London, 29/5/2008
At the London ULU, Sarah Johnson sees Nashville alt. country act the Silver Jews play an electric set, but nevertheless finding themselves being overshadowed by their support, beer-spraying Israelite trio Monotonix

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