Silver Jews 88.
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Of all the well-known international stars coming to Israel this summer, the Silver Jews have gained critical claim and a devoted fan base in the face of the most unusual obstacles .
The band has struggled against substance abuse, depression, electrical fires (the recording studio almost burnt down during the making of their latest album), and a "side-project" that became far more famous than the original band. Notwithstanding, the Jews are back with a solid new album, and lead singer/songwriter David Berman's lyrics are as honest and wrenching as ever.
Formed in 1989 while Berman and friends Stephen Malkamus and Bob Nastanovich attended the University of Virginia, the band has gone through various lineups over the years. The name of the band was chosen after previous options, including 'Silver Apples" and "Silver Beetles," proved too gentile. Berman has said that "I wanted something with 'Silver' but Jewish."
Somewhat frustratingly, the Silver Jews have been overshadowed in the indie-rock world by Malkamus' other band, Pavement. Over the course of the 90s this side-project gained a strong and loyal following and widespread critical praise for their brand of lo-fi, noise jolted rock songs.
The sonic similarities between Pavement and Silver Jews remain strong, with Malkamus' singing more powerful than Berman's but with Berman's songwriting more raw and emotional, especially on the Jews' latest album, Tanglewood Numbers, released last year by the Drag City label.
Recorded after a four-year break in which Berman battled addiction and survived a suicide attempt, the album is more like a book of tragic poetry than a happy rock record. The album is at its strongest when Berman's honesty is at its most harsh, confronting problems head on.
On the opening track, "Punks in the Beerlight," Berman confronts the intensity of relationships, asking himself "if we'd known what it takes to get here, would we have chosen to?" and finally proclaiming "let's not kid ourselves, it gets really, really bad."
Berman's unpolished and throaty voice may turn off the casual listener, but those who can tune in to the despair in his voice will discover the depth of emotion invested in the songs . At the same time, Berman's message is not all doom and gloom.
His music conveys a certain measure of hope as well, most notably in the album's closing track, "There is a Place." Ending with the repeated refrain "I saw God's shadow on this world!", Berman offers a sublime vision of the good that can come out of confronting one's problems head on. Whatever the source of Berman's revelation, fans of the band can hope he keeps having them and keeps producing such strong material in the year ahead.
The Silver Jews will play two shows in Tel Aviv, Monday July 10 at 8 p.m. at Mayumana House in Jaffa, and Tuesday July 11 at 8 p.m. at The Patiphone in Tel Aviv. Tickets are NIS 120, and can be purchased by calling 054-576-9997.