Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Following on from our recent examination of the late David Berman’s final project – 2019’s superb ‘Purple Mountains’ – we now take a look back at his 2008 swansong under the Silver Jews guise: ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’.
Here at Vinyl Corner, we recently took a look back at one of 2019’s best – and certainly most poignant – releases: the eponymous debut by David Berman’s then-new outfit Purple Mountains. (You can read our article on that album here). With Berman’s sad passing a month after that album’s release the music world may have lost a writer of class, insight and wit but his considerable output as the primary creative force of ’90s and ’00s indie rockers Silver Jews remains testament to his ability. 2008’s ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’ would prove to be Berman’s final album under the Silver Jews guise before taking an early retirement from which he would return only to produce ‘Purple Mountains’ eleven years later. Although it is generally considered to be one of the slighter entries in a consistently strong catalogue, ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’s brevity – it clocks in at just over half an hour – belies the depths of Berman’s writing. He was never one to trade in sweet nothings and with ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’ just as much as any of his other projects, he writes with a learned pen and a wry sense of humour. On the surrealistic ‘San Francisco B.C.’ a hint of Bob Dylan’s gloriously fragmented tall tales come through and on the melancholic ‘Suffering Jukebox’ Berman indulges in his more country-inclined interests but, no matter where his fancy takes him, the results are reliably interesting and steadfastly idiosyncratic.
Drag City have seemingly always been a label with a strong focus on producing high quality vinyl releases, as you can essentially take your pick of titles from their catalogue and bet that not only will there be a vinyl version available – which was far from a given during the ’90s and early ’00s – but that it will sound great. That certainly rings true for ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’ – as with most Drag City releases, it’s been pressed by American vinyl institution Record Technology Incorporated, which should by itself be enough to instil confidence in those with prior experience of their output. Whilst a visual inspection of the LP does reveal some superficial marks on both sides, none of these affect the very clean playback in the slightest. Indeed, as with the other Drag City releases we’ve covered here at Vinyl Corner, this is a great sounding LP in its entirety. Mastered for vinyl by Roger Seibel of SAE Mastering, this release benefits from a well-balanced soundscape with good body and definition throughout. Couple that with a reliably clean pressing that, in the case of our copy, bears only a few very minor imperfections and you end up with a recipe for a great listening experience.
Just as with the aurally impressive record, ‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’s packaging and presentation speak of a label with a vested interest in making each and every one of their releases an item worthy of the music. The cover art is memorable and vivid; it’s represented well here with great image quality throughout and sharp definition in the text. Although a standard-width, non-gatefold design the cover boasts an appealing glossy finish and the cardstock is actually really rather sturdy. It feels great in hand and is certainly amongst the heavier-duty of Drag City’s releases that we’ve covered for Vinyl Corner. Despite being a standard-width spine, the bold typeface and colour scheme ensures that the spine text stands out even on a packed shelf where many standard-width spine releases would find themselves lost amongst the far chunkier spines of gatefold sleeve releases. Not only that, but the careful presentation also extends past the cover itself. A printed inner sleeve is included which offers scans of Berman’s colourfully illustrated, hand-written lyrics to the entire album in addition to the chord progressions for each song. A second, far smaller card insert is also included, showing the fingering positions for each chord with a short note from Berman himself. It’s a kindly addition to the package that makes performing these songs far easier for those so inclined, regardless of how well that individual might know their way around a fretboard.
‘Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea’ is another quirky, entertaining, off-beat effort from an artist who was never anything less and Drag City’s vinyl release does justice to it with a great pressing and sensitive, considerate presentation.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!