By Emily Carney
Indie rock was pure, escapist fun in the early- to mid-1990s. I lived in a fairly chaotic household in South Florida and would often lock myself in my room to enjoy whatever Pavement and Sebadoh had to offer. While I didn’t idolize the bands’ personnel (I don’t think anyone should be idolized, because it undermines his or her cultural legacy), records like Slanted and Enchanted and III definitely made the time more than bearable. The music still leaves deep personal resonances for me. Yes, I had the iconic Pavement “Sunny Side Up!” T-shirt. Through Pavement, I discovered Silver Jews around 1993.
Back then, Silver Jews was comprised of what the press release for Early Times describes as “Muppet baby” versions of David Berman, Stephen Malkmus (of solo fame and Pavement), and Bob “Nasty” Nastanovich (Pavement’s percussionist/beer drinker/all-around-handyman/maracas-shaking version of Bez from the Happy Mondays). The guys were buddies from the University of Virginia and, prior to all becoming poets and rock stars, decided to scrape together some lo-fi recordings while working at boring day jobs.
Early Times is basically that—some lo-fi recordings, made in 1990 and 1991 on what sounds like a dilapidated boombox. Given that this disc is basically a collection of bootlegs, no one should expect the sound quality to be stellar. Two melodic highlights include “Secret Knowledge of Back Roads” (click here to listen) and “The War in Apartment 1812,” but other than that, the music does not really resemble what Silver Jews would become. This compilation is for Berman and Malkmus completists only. That being said, people like me who grew up with these fuzzed-out, dissonant sounds will appreciate that this is available.
For those interested in other items the Silver Jews offered featuring Malkmus and Nastanovich, 1994′s Starlite Walker is a stately, low-key masterpiece. It also has my all-time favorite lyrics: “In twenty-seven years/I drunk fifty thousand beers/And they just wash against me/Like the sea into a pier.” David Berman would hate me for writing that, but so what. It’s genius. Silver Jews, despite being associated with one of the monster successes with 1990s indie rock, earned its own place in the canon.
Early Times is out today from Drag City and can be ordered from their website.