Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (Drag City) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, December 15th, 2019  

Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains

Drag City

Jul 23, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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. Louis, Jeremy Earl, and Jarvis Taveniere) and settled into Jamdek Studios in Chicago. The end result, Purple Mountains, is revelatory, the anointed prince of new school-era one-liners' strongest release since his 1998 "opus" as the Jews, American Water

Berman's mythos has been neatly packaged as obscure, schmaltzy, slacker-country for the better part of 25 yearsobservations which, in hindsight, are limiting: Berman's output is far too varied to be pinned down as simply a novelty offshoot of country music. While Purple Mountains certainly plays into the aforementioned country aesthetic, the album rolls along like a well-oiled apparatus that borrows from each individual release of Berman's, simultaneously broaching undiscovered territorylove songs are exchanged for heartbreak, as Berman separated from his longtime wife, Cassie (who appears on numerous Silver Jews' albums), and the grieving of his late mother. "All My Happiness Is Gone," "That's Just the Way That I Feel," "Darkness and Cold," and "Margaritas at the Mall" reflect on his separation, while "I Loved Being My Mother's Son" is a mellow, melancholic ode to his mother: "She helped me walk, she watched me run/She got where I was coming from/And when I couldn't count my friends on a single thumb/I loved her to the maximum." 

Berman's own carking doubts concerning a linear future of marriage and creativity are in no way masturbatory, nor are they self-indulgent—these are reel-to-reel glimpses of a monumental writer and musician in the throes of an earth shattering personal diversion. While the arrangements of Purple Mountains are smooth, elegant pieces that never meander or lose focus, Berman's prose-as-lyrics are the real anchor here: "Course I've been humbled by the void/Much of my faith has been destroyed/I've been forced to watch my foes enjoy/Ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude" ("That's Just the Way That I Feel"); "Songs build little rooms in time/And housed within the song's design/Is the ghost the host has left behind/To greet and sweep the guest inside" ("Snow is Falling in Manhattan"). But perhaps the song that most embodies the bleak, mundane miseries that so often fall into Berman's poetry is "Margaritas at the Mall." The mere imagery of the title suggests a bizarre, busted vision of Berman's American suburbia, but the self-recognizing emotional languor presents a sadder man than one might imagine: "Drawn up all my findings/And I warn you they are candid/My every day begins/With reminders I've been stranded on this/Planet where I've landed/Beneath this gray as granite sky/A place I wake up blushing like I'm ashamed to be alive." 

Purple Mountains is a monumental return for David Berman, who took the risk of collapsing into the 24-hour media cycle of indifference and irrelevance, and came out on top, stronger than imaginable. Every song is a vivid glimpse of Berman's miserable and acute self-awareness that will break your heart and fill you with ecstasy, the ultimate underdog story we never knew we neededbut don't take it from me, Berman said it first: "Well, a setback can be a setup/For a comeback if you don't let up." (www.purplemountains.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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