Silver Jews: Early Times


Listening to indie rock from my day during the Bush 41 era is such a breath of refreshingly discordant air of a time greatly admired but ultimately lost on this current generation of the young and hip who apparently have more in common with A Flock of Seagulls than Sonic Youth.

It’s an odd conundrum, indeed.

Yet the manicuring of this once rough and random genre has since given way to a new wave of nostalgic tendencies that pine to hear their rock from back when "college" was the prefix adjective instead of "indie" and submerged beneath of thick crust of tape hiss and cheap equipment distortion.

And one band who delivered such concentrated cacophony in spades was the Silver Jews, who before growing to become a juggernaut of the Drag City label was a pre-fame super trio consisting of the group’s chief principal Dave Berman with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nostanovich who at the time were simultaneously making cresting tides of noise as the savage young Pavement as well. This edition of the Jews would release one of the indie world’s most revered records in 1994’s Starlite Walker, before Berman stormed out on Malkmus and Nostanovich during a 1995 session (though Malkmus returned to the fold briefly in 1998 for the outstanding American Water LP) and would transform the Jews into a more cohesive studio entity on such latter day triumphs as 2005’s Tanglewood Numbers and 2008’s Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea before retiring from music in 2009.

But this latest compendium, however, offers a fond look back at the genesis of the Jews by collecting the early works of the Berman-Malkmus-Nostanovich lineup from the cusp of their early 90s heyday. Please suspend your disbelief in the same manner you’d apply while watching any of John McClane’s escapes from danger in the Die Hard films when reading the term "Remastered" in the context of Early Times: 1990-1. Theoretically, the material featured here, originally culled from the band’s 7-inch EP "Dime Map of the Reef" and the 12-inch Arizona Record EP, has certainly been cleaned up for the digital age.

 Yet this stuff still sounds like it was recorded on a one-speaker Emerson boom box from 1984. And to remove that sense of scratchiness from the listening experience of material like "Secret Knowledge of Back Roads" and "Bar Scene from Star Wars" would be akin to sucking the soul from its historical importance entirely, not to mention usurping the fun of the challenge in peeling away the fuzz to reveal the true grit of these wonderfully scrappy pop songs.

If that isn’t your bag, I understand the new Twin Shadow album is pretty good.

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