SILVER JEWS American Water (Drag City)

Silver Jews are band so laidback they make Pavement (with whom they’re forever intertwined thanks to a revolving roster of shared members) at their slackest sound positively hyperactive. “American Water” is their third album, originally released in 1998.

Opener “Random Rules” typifies the band’s, or perhaps more precisely its sole constant, David Berman’s, style, smuggling a devastating emotional payload beneath a succession of quotable non-sequiturs. That’s what’s so delightful about the Silver Jews’ music: it repays replaying. Songs that seem a little too similar to each other, with their mid-paced ambling gaits, blossom into works of dense and intricate detail, and Berman’s gruff, dour, Lou Reed croon becomes a conveyance you can trust, especially when casually unloading such reflexively self-deprecating pearls as “All my favourite singers couldn’t sing”. Having said that, it’s anyone’s guess what most of these songs are actually about – spiritual torpor in suburban America, perhaps? Yet despite the lyrics being the obvious attraction in any given Silver Jews song, they can also spin a brilliant instrumental, as the hard-bucking “Night Society” demonstrates.

Surprisingly, the two co-writes with Stephen Malkmus (then of Pavement), “Federal Dust” and “Blue Arrangements”, are perhaps the least appealing tunes here. “Send In The Clouds” restores the equilibrium, though. Selected by Turin Brakes for inclusion on their excellent contribution to the “Late Night Tales” mix CD series, it’s probably the closest the album comes to a hit, almost Grandaddy-esque with its images of weeping robots. “Honk If You’re Lonely” is the album’s sole moment of transparency: maybe all Silver Jews songs start out like this, before being randomly encoded into something verbally fascinating if narratively frustrating.

Stephen Malkmus