This year I gave my first ever 10/10 review for a new album, to UK band Tigercats’ debut Isle of Dogs. This year also marks my first ever 0/10 which goes to this appalling collection of cobbled together band practices from cult US act Silver Jews, which disbanded in 2009.
For those that don’t know about the band, they started as a trio in 1990 of David Berman and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastonovich. Berman remained the only constant member of the band that later also included his wife Cassie, who played bass.
We saw them live in 2008 at Explosions in the Sky’s ATP Festival and they were one of the highlights. Mixing Americana and indie rock the music was enthralling, the lyrics clever and in Berman they had one of music’s most engaging and witty frontmen.
So why is this release of their early work, featuring Berman, Malkmus and Nastonovich so appalling and deserving of such a low score. For a start it’s recorded on boombox mics making the production value non-existent and most of it pretty much inaudible. Sure lo-fi can work, just look at the Mountain Goats John Darnielle’s early boom box releases. But this worked for Darnielle because the home made amateur feel brought out the intimacy in his songwriting, vocals and simple guitar playing. For this release the lo-fi recording just makes it unbearable to listen to.
What has been released here is essentially a series of bad band practices, full of background giggles, poor playing and pretty much no artistic merit. The songs here were originally released on the Dime Ma of the Reef 7” and 12’EP the Arizona Record. They are essentially barely audible pieces of drivel that surely even the most ardent Silver Jews fan will struggle to listen to. When you can just about make out a tune it sounds a little like early Pavement with bad drumming.
What angers me most about this release is that some people may actually waste their money on it. Please, I implore you do not. This is not a lovely curio from the past, this is about someone, somewhere, trying to release, quite frankly, any old shit and hoping it sticks to someone. Well, no siree, this brown stuff will not stick with this website.
The press release tells us that there may be an additional release of “rare and unreleased” early recordings in the near future. On this evidence I hope that is a joke.
by Joe Lepper