Silver Jews
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea


4.0
excellent

Review

by tom79 USER (85 Reviews)
August 7th, 2021 | 9 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The overlooked final Silver Jews album

It’s been two years now since David Berman passed away and I felt compelled to write something. Ever since I first heard Silver Jews' 'American Water' at eighteen their music has remained a fixture in my listening repertoire. It was Berman’s words I really gravitated towards, that kept me coming back. As I got older those words resonated more and by my mid-20s I was convinced he was one of the greatest songwriters of our time. I had delved further into the Silver Jews’ back catalogue, the lesser-known works (to me it was all ‘lesser known’ really but the Internet informed me ‘American Water’ was the essential one, and I can see why). While the others didn’t reach quite the heights of that 1998 opus, with the possible exception of 1996’s 'The Natural Bridge', I grew to appreciate them all in one way or another.

“Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea” is the sixth and final Silver Jews album before they disbanded and Berman took a break from music, retreating from the public eye. He re-emerged a decade later under the moniker Purple Mountains, releasing their eponymous LP in 2019. I was thrilled, and in no time singing along to the new batch of songs, just happy they existed. But I had this sort of conflicting feeling. As excited as I was Berman was back and making some of his best music yet with an upcoming tour planned, it was hard not to have some reservations humming along to lyrics like “All my happiness is gone”, “conditions I’m wishing weren’t taking control, darkness and cold”, and “day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in, I’m the same old wreck I’m always been”. While Berman’s music is not noted for being particularly uplifting, I never recalled it being so ... blunt. There was still the signature wryness and traces of that sardonic, understated humor but it was undermined by an alarming gravity - to me anyway. But I thought perhaps this return to music would be what he needed, or so I hoped. What else was there to do? Berman’s death affected me in a personal way almost no other musician’s death has (or any public figure I didn’t personally know), in a rare, visceral way that surprised me. But I’m digressing here - back to the album.

“Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea” is probably the most “upbeat” the Silver Jews ever got; many of the songs here are jangly, playful even, and a lotta fun. 'Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer' is a lively number telling an impressively detailed story in under two minutes (Berman once said before playing it live “Why in the *** did I write this song? It’s like Reverend Horton Heat or something”). 'Candy Jail' has to be one of the bands catchiest tunes, with irresistible, comically absurd lyrics like “Life in a candy jail with peppermint bars, peanut-brittle bunk beds and marshmallow walls, where the guards are gracious and the grounds are grand and the warden keeps a data on your favorite brands”. 'Open Field' is a breezy song, almost inconsequential in its lightness and lyrical sparseness but too enjoyable to skip. 'San Francisco B.C.' is the most ambitious here, a narratively-dense romp clocking in at over six minutes while closer 'We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing' is a melancholic yet hopeful ode to pragmatic love. 'Suffering Jukebox' is a wistful song containing lyrical gems such as “suffering jukebox, such a sad machine, you’re all filled up with what other people mean”. 'My Pillow is the Threshold' is a highlight, a darker and colder one boasting one of my favorite Berman lines (and where the album’s title can be found): “Somewhere in a foggy atlas, lookout mountain, lookout sea, first life takes time, then time takes life, now the next move’s up to me”.

“Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea” is a worthy entry to the Silver Jews’ canon and a unique take on their already unique brand of indie rock. I almost want to say it’s one for the fans but I think that undersells the record’s quality. That being said, those new to Berman and the Joos are probably best starting with “American Water” or “The Natural Bridge”, but I wouldn’t sleep on this (or any of their LPs really). To some this might seem ‘slight’ compared directly alongside those more acclaimed records, so why do that? It’s a more immediate and consistent record containing some of the band’s best work, full of Berman’s trademark storytelling, humour, wit and poetic insights penned to some delightful compositions. Since Berman’s passing it’s been a little harder for me to listen to some of his music, but I can always put this one on and be in a better mood.



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user ratings (44)
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
WeepingBanana
August 7th 2021


11275 Comments


Candy Jail is such a delight

theBoneyKing
August 7th 2021


22227 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ayyy we love a Berman review! Still a great album even if it’s one of his weaker ones.

Digging: Ethel Cain - Preacher's Daughter

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 8th 2021


46388 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

great review, haven't listened enough to this but San Francisco is a classic

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 8th 2021


3822 Comments


Need to hear this, wonderful review

Ryus
August 8th 2021


27723 Comments


"It’s been two years now since David Berman passed away"

feels like it was 5 months ago
still only heard "american water" which is incredible. need to hear other stuff by this band

theBoneyKing
August 8th 2021


22227 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Everything he released is worth a spin, even the early lo-fi Joos stuff, go for the deep dive.

CaliggyJack
August 8th 2021


8550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review



great album

WatchItExplode
August 8th 2021


9650 Comments


Always love to see a review from Tom but I struggle to get into this group

Digging: Straw Man Army - SOS

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 9th 2021


46388 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

ryus def check The Natural Bridge immediately if not sooner



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