It's hard to believe Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is the Silver Jew's sixth studio album since my ears have only known about them for a few years. It's not hard to believe that my ears fell for "The Joos" right away. Sardonic loving ears know a sardonic loving song when they hear it and with songs like "How Can I Love You When You Won't Lie Down?" it's hard not to love David Berman and his ever-changing band mates. Lookout, though, isn't as sardonic as it is sober. Berman has referred to this album as "really different", and it is. Instead of poetics and dry, sarcastic anecdotes, Berman's storytelling abilities are showcased and a lot of the album's songs are filled with either hope and wisdom, or the result of a dark night.
The opening song, "What Is Not But Could Be If," is an optimistic look at having to crawl back up from the bottom. Instead of telling stories about other people, Berman tells his own story in this song. It's been three years since the last Silver Jews album and in those three years Berman struggled with drug addiction and a suicide attempt. He managed to pick himself up, get married, and get back to songwriting and touring. Lookout manages to make a complete circle by starting with "What Is Not..." and ending with "We Could Be Looking For The Same Thing" (a love song that features his wife Cassie), since his marriage surely helped him crawl back up.
In-between the two songs Berman tells character stories and dives back into his own story. Whereas 2005's "Sleeping Is The Only Love" is about the possibility of a new lover offering motivation, 2008's "My Pillow Is The Threshold" touches on an outstanding commitment offering motivation and relief from a bleak world. The song is followed by the sonically upbeat "Strange Victory Strange Defeat"; a look at the mediocrity in the music scene with the lyrics "What's with all the handsome grandsons / In these rock band magazines? / "What have they done with the fat ones / The bald and goatee'd?"
Berman is all about storytelling in "Aloyisius Bluegrass Drummer" and "San Francisco B.C." (the most amusing song on the album). I'd love to share some amusing lyrics from "San Francisco B.C.", but I'd have to share all of the lyrics because the entire song is a riot with a steady Monster Mash-like beat. This standout song makes up for the weaker ones like "Open Fields", a song that sounds pretty but is too sparse lyrically. Silver Jews' albums have a tendency to offer incredibly strong songs that more than make up for a couple of duds, and Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea fits into this pattern.
Another thing about this album that is "really different" is how it sounds more polished and produced than earlier albums. The stumbling chords, the lo-fi love, and the casual vocals are missing...and to be honest, I miss them. Yet, I also respect Berman's musical growth and effort at creating a more polished and refined sound on Lookout.