1988, Music

American Water (1998) by Silver Jews

Pavement were such a big deal – or seemed like they were such a big deal – that I think it’s really easy to understand why they inevitably come up with this band, even though, according to some sources, this band existed prior to Pavement, and certainly in some iteration or other. But even if you know that, it’s still hard to separate the two, given Malkmus’ presence here, and his prominent singing (which sometimes feels as forward or even further forward than Berman’s, even when Malkmus is listed as a backing vocalist). Then there are the songs – not necessarily like Malkmus’ exactly, but definitely in the same solar system. And Berman’s delivery is not that far off either. So it’s hard to avoid, is what I’m saying.

But despite the obvious similarities it feels as though the two bands were trying to do different things. Silver Jews are much more traditional, musically speaking, than Pavement, and seemingly much more sincere as well. (The latter, relatively speaking, I guess.) And I wonder if Malkmus had not been involved, would anyone ever talk about them in comparison to Pavement? (Probably, Berman and Malkmus sound too similar lyrically and vocally, to ignore.)

Berman is a pretty decent songwriter; though he likes to play around with language he generally writes relatively traditional songs, and it’s more his delivery and the arrangements that make this music “indie” at all.

The arrangements themselves are, for the most part, not super compelling to me. It’s only a few songs where they let loose, such as on “Night Society” – and sound more like The Jicks or maybe even Pavement – when they grab me, but those moments are rather spread out. And it makes me think that, were it not for those few jams, Berman’s laconic delivery, and Malkmus’ presence, we wouldn’t think of this as “Indie.”

But I think the bones are good; the songs are catchy enough and the lyrics quirky enough, and the whole thing just off-centre enough that I enjoy it despite the nitpicking of my brain. And I do wonder how much my brain wouldn’t have gotten in the way without the Pavement association. Shrug.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.