Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is the fifth full length album from David Berman and the Silver Jews, and by my estimation it is the best he’s come up with yet. From the opening track until the very end, you’ll find yourself hanging on every single word out of his mouth, trying to understand each little line. Berman’s words here are at their best, but that is for you to decide.
Opener “What Is Not But Could Be If” begins the album with the darkened voice of Berman, somewhat reminiscent of a certain man in black. It’s clear at this point that Berman has definitely found his own niche in the world of off-beat country.
The album picks up pace with “Aloyisius Bluegrass Drummer,” where a solid rhythm section and a dancing piano rush us through the most clever two minutes to come across my ears.
The third track, “Suffering Jukebox” is full of sprawling guitars, but most importantly is the album’s introduction to Berman’s wife Cassie. Her sunny vocals seem to contradict those of her husband, but all in an effort to show the balance of a solid Silver Jews song.
“My Pillow is the Threshhold,” to me, comes off as an ode to the love song. “The pillow that I dream on is the threshold of a kingdom/ threshold of a world where I’m with you,” seems to sum up the meaning of the song, though one can never have just one simple meaning in a Berman song; this is just me guessing.
“Strange Victory Strange Defeat” is my personal favorite on this album. The battle of rebellious squirrels to win their freedom warms me inside. Then you throw on top of that the harmonizing of the Berman family at 1.5 minutes, and you have one of my favorite moments on an album this year.
You will find a taste of sunny California “oohs” and “ahhs” all over “Open Field,” which is probably one of the only songs on this album I don’t want to listen to ten times a day, probably just 7 or 8.
Literary genius abounds on “San Francisco BC,” the albums 7th track. See these two samples: “Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie” and “I thought the wages of Metal should be heavily garnished.” A friend of mine told me that Berman comes up with the cleverest lines that you know you thought, but you just didn’t say them fast enough.
I dare not even attempt to make sense of “Candy Jail,” but the song still has this unending draw to me. Something about “peanut brittle bunk-beds” just sort of calls my name.
I have to admit that nothing stops a “Party Barge,” the 9th track on this album. Electric guitar mixed with sounds of sea ports (gulls, foghorns, etc), along with requests for coordinates from “lake directory,” just makes is all seem like summer.
Album closer, “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing,” wraps up the album with a gentle number reminding us all that despite dreams and hopes, everything isn’t exactly perfect; still, Berman seems to insist that we all give it a try. And I say why not?
Obviously, I went about this review a bit differently, but that is just the thing about a Silver Jews album: no two people will ever get the same thing out of one of Berman’s songs, let alone albums. It’s the perfect conversation piece for you and your friends, trying to eat dinner as you all take turns at deciphering words and song meanings. Each person will walk away with their own interpretation, as they should. I just wanted to show ya’ll mine.
Now, if you are looking for that alt-country album with witty lines and gentle harmonies then you won’t be doing yourself a disservice if you purchase this album. Honestly, if you don’t buy this album, no matter what you are into, you are damned to admitting that you have done yourself a disservice by not allowing yourself the proper amount of time to enjoy Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; there is only one way to remedy that situation, and that is to get your hands on this album as soon as possible.
You can stream this entire album on the band’s myspace page if you want to try before you buy.
We also have a song off the album entitled “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat” available for download: