Review: Silver Jews – Early Times
Published on June 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
When we interviewed erstwhile Silver Jew Bob Nastanovich earlier this month, he remembered of the sessions which comprise Early Times…
“The three of us were close friends then. We saw each other on nearly a daily basis. We led similar lives. Jews were a part of our free time at night. We drank beer and jammed. That’s what came out. There was camaraderie… Obviously, it was sloppy. We were trying to be cool.”
These recordings were originally released as 1992 EP Dime Map of the Reef and 1993 follow-up The Arizona Record, and their proximity to the landing of seminal Pavement debut Slanted and Enchanted left many under the impression that this was the work of the same group under a different name. It’s easy to see why – the scratchy lo-fi aesthetic is there in spades, and Stephen Malkmus’s voice is perceptible across much of it – but of course we know now that Jew-in-chief David Berman was just starting to position himself as one of the most quietly influential figures of the next fifteen years of American alternative/indie/whateveryouwannacallit.
So here we have it, a modernly packaged document of Silver Jews when they were just Berman, Malkmus and Nastanovich recording loosely structured jams inside a dustbin (obviously not, but it sounds like it) with a pile of cheap beer for company. Is it any good? The answer is: frequently yes, but those who require a Foo Fighters-y sheen to the production in order to make sense of what they’re hearing might want to run screaming in advance.
Those acquainted with and/or fond of the blaring inscrutability of such a heavily lo-fi aesthetic might bask in the sunny good vibes ringing trashily through the likes of opener “Canada”, on which Malkmus sounds as if he’s singing lines conjured on the spot, while Berman-fronted follower “The Walnut Falcon” is loose to the point of embryonic.
As with these things, the production (or scant regard for it) throws up its own unique imagery: “September 1999” is a fine example of this, a screeching maelstrom of white guitar noise whirring and creaking overhead like a pair of rusty steel wings, while “SVM F.T. Troops” sees Malkmus in the kind of free-form tell-tale mode that made the likes of Slanted and Enchanted cut “Conduit for Sale!” so compelling.
“Secret Knowledge of Backroads” is a splendidly Malkmus/Berman-esque title and very early-Pavement-y with it, paving (arf!) the way for “Jackson Nightz” to bamboozle us by sounding first as if someone taped over it (intentional, Nastanovich assured Rocksucker) and then with Malkmus yelling what sounds like “tough fuck” over an agreeably tumbling jam.
“The War in Apartment 1812” is pleasingly poppy over the stodgy, fuzzy nonsense, Steve West tribute “West S” lays what sounds like “You’ve got a lot of books to read / So you pack them / And crack them” over chugging, monotone bass, “Welcome to the House of the Bats” comes over like an especially drunkenly nonchalant Guided By Voices, and hypnotic, sweetly droning (yes, it’s possible!) closer “Bar Scene from Star Wars”, which Nastanovich informed us was Berman “flying completely solo”, sails us out on an instrumental trip ending with plastic flute echoing like a barking dog.
No-one in their right mind would ever recommend Early Times as a gateway into Silver Jews’s sterling back catalogue, but as the sound of three friends having a good time goes this is enjoyable and occasionally heart-warming fare. One for the fans, but we needn’t have told you that.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!