Review Summary: Scotch and penicillin..
The affliction of Silver Jews can be summed up in two words, twice repeated – Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
. Formed in 1989 in NYC by sullen existential crooner David Berman and a then-unknown lanky meliorist Stephen Malkmus, the band were all-but poised to become a minor force in the city’s underground circuit, and future record shop prima obscurity. Instead, Malkmus went ahead and crafted Crooked Rain
, and suddenly Silver Jews were relegated to a Pavement side-project. Released the same year as Crooked Rain
, Starlite Walker
is now mostly known as one of several jumping points for Malkmus’ dabbles in indie pop perfection. As Pavement grew into their golden child title, Berman retreated, keeping Silver Jews going with a rotating cast of fellow poetic curmudgeons. Starlite Walker
did eventually become that treasured record shop find, though mind you, one that’s ever-so-slightly laden by the bittersweet slant of ‘what could have been.’
That bitter-sweetness is most obvious on “Advice to the Graduate,” as close as the band keep to Crooked Rain
’s sparkled passion, Malkmus tempering Berman’s low half-spoken surly streaks with his bright-eyed poetics. Otherwise, Berman’s layered and at-times disheveled arrangements lead the way here. He sneaks in some country slide into “Trains Across the Sea,” whistles up a storm on “Living Waters,” moogs away on “Rebel Jew,” and slips kitschy electronics at random points. Looking at Starlite
retroactively, plenty of its cleaner, less lo-fi aspects smack of Pavement, which just about sums up Silver Jews’ grievances, since the two bands more or less came around at the same time and from the same minds, taking cues from each other in equal parts.
All time-and-place strife aside, what cannot be argued with is actualized quality; and ultimately, Crooked Rain
, this is not. The album feels undercooked at points, and over-maudlin in others, but for all that scatterbrained aesthetic, when Starlite Walker
catches you on at the right moment, on the right early autumn night, there isn’t a note on it that sounds superfluous or peripheral.
At the heart of its hearts, Starlite Walker
is a record of re-surfacing, a campfire album for broken adults. A campfire where no one tosses cherry bombs into the pit, kisses wildly, or leaps over the flame, woozy on poppers. A campfire of receding hairlines, career jobs long-rued, divorces and long personal silences. Coy flirting through crow’s feet, unrenowned books, and things of beauty, forgotten and remembered and forgotten again.