David Berman’s on-again-off-again project releases its most elaborate album to date
David Berman has never sounded more confident or focused than he does on Tanglewood Numbers, his fifth release with the Silver Jews. Unexpectedly rich layers of strings, female backup singers and rumbling electric guitars obscure the off-the-cuff charm and disinterested buzz that formed the distinctive character of his previous releases, as the arrangements here are as bold and over-the-top as the previous ones were subdued and understated.
The glammy “Punks in the Beerlight” rubs up against the incessantly tuneful “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed,” with Berman shedding his barstool-bard persona to spit out humorous rhetoric with startling animation. Original Silver Jews Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich are back in the fold, and the songs are catchier than on any other Silver Jews release.
If there are any complaints, it’s that the arrangements are so elaborate they distract from Berman’s droll verse, but for anyone who’s wondered what Berman might sound like working with a full sonic palette, Tanglewood Numbers provides a definitive, satisfying answer.