The Silver Jews' sixth album cover - wherein three stuffed Babar toys climb onto a rocky outcrop - mysteriously and trickily relates to the record's tales of virtue gone to seed. But in 2008 what are the odds of ever seeing it? Since the likelihood is that most will simply download the best tracks for their mobiles, it's best to forgo theoretical discussion about the gap between speech and song, in favour of an appreciation of the album's country-rock attack, ethereal choruses and mosaic burr. Yes David Berman (along with wife Cassie) is back with yet another line-up in his journey along a road that's long since ceased to be incorrectly termed 'Pavement offshoot'.
Actually, Look Out Mountain, Look Out Sea is too varied an album to be called country, or rock, let alone country-rock. On the opener What Is Not But Could Be If, head songwriter Berman comes across like a latter-day psychedelicized Johnny Cash, throwing thoughts like tomahawks and quoting Yiddish wisdom. This urgent, apocalyptic mood continues on the shimmering alt-pop slabs of Suffering Jukebox and My Pillow Is A Threshold. But the album's brilliance lies in its mix of approaches. There are the disturbing and arresting visions of Strange Victory, Strange Defeat and San Francisco B.C. (a distant relation of Dylan's 115th Dream); the marimba delirium of Candy Jail and the ship's horn and seagulls blasting on Party Barge. In addition, the naive chiming rendition of Japanese composer Maher Shalal Hash Baz's Open Field offer a perspective upon Berman's last-chance Texaco of lowlife insanity and romantic longing.
The man's final triumph here lies in his lyrical vision, which goes beyond merely skewering a world of craven mediocrity to suggest better possibilities, where the end might just be another beginning. But rather than expound further on the Silver Jews' new sympathy for unloved machine humanity, perhaps it's enough to say that this is the best album to come out of Tennessee this year; indeed possibly the world. It even has a chord chart. So you really should get your own copy. --Tim Nelson
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