Early Times

by: Silver Jews

Early Times, which collects the Silver Jews' first recordings, traces the beginnings of David Berman's shambling poetics (or is it poetic shambles?). The fidelity might have gotten higher and the twang more pronounced over the years, but the music was always about Berman's ability to be wry, profound, poignant, and playful all at the same time, and the interplay between him and whatever group of friends was backing him at the moment. On the two boombox-recorded EPs included here, Dime Map of the Reef and The Arizona Record, Berman is joined by Pavement drummers/percussionists Steve West and Bob Nastanovich, respectively, and by Stephen Malkmus throughout; not surprisingly, the Pavement influence is strongest on these recordings even though Malkmus and Nastanovich went on to record with Berman several other times (including the Jews' brilliant debut album, Starlite Walker), and this collection could easily be seen as the Silver Jews' version of Westing (By Musket and Sextant). Dime Map's "Canada" and "September 1999" are especially shambolic, but "The Walnut Falcon"'s minor-key musings hold the seed of the sound that took root on The Arizona Record, from the tangled but eloquent "Secret Knowledge of Back Roads" to the messy epic "I Love the Rights" to the mellow chug of "West S" to "Welcome to the House of the Bats"' musical non sequitur. That Early Times' final track, "Bar Scene from Star Wars," which was laid to tape on a humble four-track, is the collection's most cleanly recorded song speaks to how warts-and-all the Silver Jews' early days were, but this just adds to the charm of these sonic doodles. Tape hiss has rarely sounded so enjoyable. ~ Heather Phares

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