My 2005 Review of Silver Jews’ Tanglewood Numbers

In the spirit of posting my old Buzzsaw David Berman interview, here’s the review I wrote of Tangelwood Numbers that ran in the same issue. Once again, I’ve maintained the errors of the original printing:

Silver Jews
The Tanglewood Numbers
(Drag City, 2005)

The Silver Jews have come a long way since their days of playing free-associative songs into Thurston Morre and Kim Gordon’s answering machine. While their early releases were lo-fi songwriting experiments, Tanglewood Numbers, their first album in four years, not only features the complex and deft lyrical twists head Jew David Berman is known for, but also rich, densely layered music to house the perceptive non-sequiturs and evocative details.

Of course, it would be a mistake to refer to the Silver Jews using collective words such as “they” and “their” since the single thread running through the band’s disjointed history is Berman himself. Taking the sole producing credit, he has assembled a cast of talented friends, most notably Stephen Malkmus and Will Oldham, to bring his tales of hard times in love and life to musical fruition. The result is an album dripping with an urgency that announces that living might not always be easy, but to actually live is “sweeter than Jewish wine.”

Much has been made of the revelation that Berman spent the past few years battling drugs and personal demons, and while it’s hard to not hear the tremors of that journey in his songs, it is clear that this is a record about facing trouble and forging through it. From the acknowledgement that “it gets really really bad” in opener “Punks in the Beerlight” to the declaration that he doesn’t want to return to the place where he saw “God’s shadow on this world” in closer “There is a Place,” Berman traverses an emotionally poetic landscape that rewards the listener with insight and gusto. This is an album worth hearing and then listening to again and again.

— Matt Corley

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