"Strange Victory Strange Defeat" by Silver Jews
The Silver Jews' last album, 2005's Tanglewood Numbers, felt like a huge exhale after a career—such as it was—of introverted, downcast poetic weirdness. David Berman inadvertently built himself a legend: He refused to play live, he didn't speak to the press, and he was nearly always associated with his pal (and occasional bandmate) Stephen Malkmus. But Tanglewood, released post-suicide-attempt and life-turnaround, brought him out of the haze and into a happier place, though it did explore some of the dark journey. The results were only half-engaging, a problem that Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea suffers a bit from as well. He hasn't lost the sardonic smarts, but there's a sense of lightness—the playful, country-ish rock is more playful and country-ish—that by its nature removes some of the gravity and graveness of his songs. It's unkind to begrudge a great lyricist some real-life joy, but more traditional tracks (like "Suffering Jukebox," featuring vocals from Berman's wife Cassie, and "Party Barge") just don't have the impact of Berman's finest. Still, he finds his best tone on occasion here: "San Francisco B.C." is one of his epic stories, and "My Pillow Is The Threshold" could stand with some of his greatest. It's no American Water or Starlite Walker, but better a happy Silver Jews than none at all.