Release Date: Jul 12, 2019
Record label: Drag City
The message proclaimed that the band he'd fronted for the previous two decades was, in part, a riposte to his Republican lobbyist father. "In a way," he announced, "I am the son of a demon come to make good the damage." Purple Mountains , his first new project since, makes good of an entirely different kind of damage. Berman's absence has, characteristically, been defined by silence.
What is there to say that the man himself hasn't already stated? The return of poet and singer/songwriter David Berman (Silver Jews) under the newly minted moniker Purple Mountains caught a restless and devoted fanbase entirely by surprise. After 10 years of silence (forbye sporadic blog posts under the alias' "purplemountains" and "mentholmountains") following a Silver Jews "final, farewell tour," David Berman's return was germinating like a slow, sturdy fungus within indie-rock discourse. After nixed attempts recording a new album with Dan Bejar (Destroyer), and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Berman procured members of the Woodsist team (Anna St.
In 2009, David Berman quit music because he's not a careerist; because he feared that he might start sucking; because, as he posited in an essay called "My Father, My Attack Dog," his work as a songwriter could never offset the damage done to the world by his notorious corporate lobbyist father, Richard Berman, known as "Dr. Evil." When HBO approached him during the hiatus to participate in a docuseries about his father Berman backed out, fearing it would end up being a sympathetic Tony Soprano-style portrait. But of all the reasons David Berman has given for abandoning his recording project, Silver Jews, the most pressing one was also the simplest: He wanted more time to read.
To say we've missed David Berman would be an overstatement. Yes, those half dozen Silver Jews albums of the 90s and 00s were celebrated by scholars of cult US indie-rock, but whether you liked the affable country roads of American Water or the subtly darker streets of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, when Berman called it a day in 2009 the only people who really cared were the converted he was increasingly preaching to. Why? Berman's lyrics were obviously sheer poetry to anyone who peered past the lazy "Pavement offshoot" accusations, able to deftly offset the troubles Berman so publicly wore on his sleeve with a pitch black humour that erroneously helped us hope he was somehow helping himself.
A lot has changed since David Berman released his last Silver Jews album, but time hasn't changed him. If you need an update on how he's been for the past eleven years, he clarifies any lingering doubts on the album opener to his new project Purple Mountains, That's Just the Way I Feel: "I'm the same old wreck I've always been." Berman always used self-deprecation as a narrative device to show off his sense of humor, even if there's now a surprising directness to his approach. A trait that you could never ascribe to him is moody, though, and he makes sure to sound as chipper as he can so he's not thought of as a figure of pity.
After the Silver Jews ended in 2009, David Berman's retreat from music seemed so final that the mere existence of Purple Mountains is somewhat miraculous -- and even more so because it's one of his finest collections of songs. For this go-round, Berman chose a brilliant band name: Purple Mountains is traditional but not obvious, familiar but with more than a hint of eternal mystery. While he's always been an eloquent songwriter, now he's also a direct one -- it's as if these songs are making up for lost time even as they let listeners know what's been on his mind during the years he was gone.
In 2009, David Berman, just a few years into his first shows with The Silver Jews, announced his retirement from music. It wasn't too surprising. After all, it can't be easy singing indie's most introspective and anxious lyrics to a crowd of strangers night after night. However, it's easy to forget that Berman didn't inform indie rock like his buddy Stephen Malkmus did.
D avid Berman has had a life full of flamboyant bleakness. A one-time crack addict, he once deliberately overdosed and headed to the same hotel room Al Gore awaited the 2000 election re-count in, saying: "I want to die where the presidency died!" After his band Silver Jews broke up in 2009 ("Before we got bad") he became a hermit, his wife eventually leaving him. He also revealed his longtime hatred for his Washington lobbyist father, and quit music to write a takedown exposé of him, which hasn't emerged.
David Berman stepped away from music a decade ago. He seems to have spent most of that time being David Berman. Ten years without anything from the Silver Jews (Berman's former band) would make anyone sad, but that's not where he is. The songwriter's time away has included divorce, death and depression, a sequence whose alliteration is more poetic than the actual experience of any of them.
The decade-plus since David Berman's last record has seen shifts in the discussion around privilege in music. It feels like a new pop contender or indie upstart have their upbringing exposed and picked over pretty much weekly; those spotlighted either shrug and count their blessings, or attempt to claw back some tenuous realness via deflection or denial. Berman, an invariably-described-as cult alternative rock figure who traded for two decades as Silver Jews and debuts here as Purple Mountains, quit music in 2009 claiming reasons possibly unparalleled in the business: he wished to devote his energies to opposing the career of his father, a wealthy and influential lobbyist for several of the most nakedly venal corporate organisations in the United States.