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Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

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Silver Jews 11/2/2009

Review

Whether its songs were autobiographical or not, Tanglewood Numbers carried the weight of the hard times David Berman survived before making the album. By contrast, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is one of the Silver Jews' lightest albums, at times surpassing the most playful moments of Starlite Walker and American Water. Berman's sly sense of humor has always been a vital -- maybe even the most vital -- ingredient in the Silver Jews' music, but some of the songs here are so goofy, at least on the surface, they might put off fans who want him to be only a serious writer or wry raconteur. "Party Barge" opens with gleefully fake seagull sound effects and just gets wackier from there, with Berman and his wife, Cassie, trading off lyrics like "Send me your coordinates and I'll send a Saint Bernard." Yet even the silliest-seeming songs aren't trivial -- and like most Silver Jews songs, they're eminently quotable: the album's longest and wildest song, "San Francisco B.C.," a six-minute epic involving an ex-girlfriend who is a "vocal martyr in the vegan press," has almost as many narrative developments as a small novel; "Candy Jail" may have fittingly sugary marimba melodies, but the first words out of Berman's mouth are "pain works on a sliding scale." The darkness that drove much of Tanglewood Numbers resurfaces from time to time on Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, sometimes in strange places, like the breakneck story-song "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer," where a star-crossed romance with a very hungry country singer and the mysterious "region 10" combine in surreal, sinister ways. However, even on the album's most inward-looking song, the gorgeous "My Pillow Is the Threshold," which explores the night life of dreaming, that darkness feels like it's been put into a more manageable perspective. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea also boasts a few quintessential Silver Jews songs, including the opening track, "What Is Not But Could Be If," a lonesome, open-ended musing where the rumble of Berman's slightly frail baritone sounds like the missing link between Johnny Cash and Calvin Johnson. "Suffering Jukebox" is another classic from its title onward; written in sympathy of the mostly ignored jukeboxes in honky tonks everywhere, it's just another example of how the Silver Jews find imaginative perspectives on classic country sounds and imagery. They go a step farther on "We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing," delivering a love song sweet and straightforward enough to be a hit in a parallel country-pop universe, lyrics like "I hope I don't come across as a coyote in your eyes" and all. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea reveals more poetic, as well as playful, layers with each listen -- and above all, underscores what an inviting songwriter Berman is, whether he's taking a darker or lighter approach. ~ Heather Phares
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  1. # Track Artist Length
  2. 1 What Is Not But Could Be If Silver Jews 3:6
  3. 2 Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer Silver Jews 1:51
  4. 3 Suffering Jukebox Silver Jews 4:18
  5. 4 My Pillow Is the Threshold Silver Jews 3:52
  6. 5 Strange Victory, Strange Defeat Silver Jews 2:41
  7. 6 Open Field Silver Jews 2:39
  8. 7 San Francisco B.C. Silver Jews 6:14
  9. 8 Candy Jail Silver Jews 2:27
  10. 9 Party Barge Silver Jews 2:52
  11. 10 We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing Silver Jews 3:19

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