"Early Times" Silver Jews
When the first Silver Jews records landed in the early '90s, many insiders claimed the group was actually underground pop darlings Pavement, incognito.
The first releases were haphazard messes, lo-fi to the point of parody and seemingly constructed in a haze of marijuana smoke while 12 beers deep. In other words, just the sort of thing the slyly mischievous members of Pavement would be capable of.
In truth, the Silver Jews was a project involving Pavement frontman Steve Malkmus and his college roommate, a young poet by the name of David Berman. As Pavement continued through the '90s to establish itself as one of the era's true greats, Berman took the Silver Jews and chiseled out its own territory with a string of much more polished albums, the best of which are true classics.
The Sliver Jews called it quits in 2008, with the eccentric Berman staging the last performance inside a cave in his adopted home of Nashville, Tenn.
For those fans going through withdrawal, with no new stoned pontifications coming from the Jews for the foreseeable future (given that every indie act seems to get back together at some point these days), the band's early material has been gathered for "Early Times."
Originally released as 1992's "Arizona Record" and the 1990 7-inch "Dime Map of the Reef," the tracks presented here are mired under nonexistent production values, muddled vocals getting tangled up in sloppy guitar riffs, the drums stumbling in the background static. Still, through the brittle tape hiss, you can hear both Berman and Malkmus developing a distinct creative aesthetic that would serve them both well once they found recording equipment that didn't say Fisher-Price on it.
The standouts here, such as "Canada" and "The Secret Knowledge of the Back Roads," make you wish that the band would have given it another try in a proper studio, while inebriated jams such as "Unchained Melody" and "Bar Scene From Star Wars" have a certain lackadaisical charm.
For the most part, "Early Times" probably will appeal only to the band's fervent fan base, with its rough-sketch quality. But like the early lo-fi work of Beck or Sonic Youth, it's an interesting listen to a band that later translated these techniques into some of the most acclaimed and enduring classics of early indie rock.
The Silver Jews might have gone on to much greater achievements, but "Early Times" is still a testament to what messing around with friends in an attempt to make music can lead to.