Album Review: Silver Jews' 'Early Times'

Photo by Cassie Berman

Silver Jews never lost their charming, ramshackle quality during a 20-year career that ended in 2009, though they sounded like Steely Dan at their slickest in comparison to “Early Times” (Drag City), a collection of out-of-print songs from the band’s, um, early times.

It’s essentially going back to the start, when David Berman spent all his spare time making a racket with his Pavement pals Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, throwing down noisy little ditties full of tape hiss, uncertain tempos and flubbed notes on a glitchy four-track recorder. Tucked within those rickety structures, though, are little gems: the catchy melody that cuts through even the noisiest patches of “Canada,” the clanging, languorous guitars of “Bar Scene From Star Wars” or the hints of brilliance secreted deep within “The War in Apartment 1812,” which sounds like it was recorded over another song that’s bleeding through.

Longtime fans will probably already have these songs on the EPs they originally came from — tracks 1-5 were on “Dime Map of the Reef,” and the rest came out on “The Arizona Record” — but for the less initiated, “Early Times” offers a peek at a band in its developmental stages. It’s like a blurry photocopy of a road map of what was to come.

— Eric R. Danton 

Secret Knowledge of Back Roads

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