This album marks a high point of collaboration: two university pals (David Berman and Stephen Malkmus) who would, in their own way, become legends of the ’90s. Right now, Berman has stopped writing music and is sticking to poetry and blogs, and Malkmus has spent more years on his solo career than his acclaimed band Pavement. Now, to make this album even more obscure, it is not the Silver Jews’ first album (that was The Arizona Records a collection of very lo-fi songs originally recorded into friends’ answering machines) nor is the album as celebrated as their other works such as American Water and Tanglewood Numbers. However, what Starlite Walker does have is that instantly recognisable tang of freshness in a band who are realising their greatness.
The music resembles a fuzzy acoustic warmth of stumbled chords, whistling, semi-solos and single piano notes, i.e. where the musicians lack in technical brilliance they make up for with absolute conviction. But what holds the songs together is Berman’s excellent nasal songcraftmanship. He wittily slices through poetic traditions “There is a house in New Orleans, not the one you’ve heard about, I’m talking ‘bout another house” and constructs pithy philosophies: “Half hours on earth/ What are they worth? / I don’t know”. Malkmus often vocalises in throughout the songs to enforce a chorus, or enhance an emotion that Berman’s lyrics encapsulates, often to humorous effect, for example at the end of “New Orleans” he screams “We’re stuck inside this song!” over and over again.A common topic in the album is transition. Berman often ponders over his university years (or at least years without adult responsibility), and the microcosm of warmth they establish. He recreates the atmosphere of a house party in the closing song “The Silver Pageant” and his experimental song “The Country Diary Of A Subway Conductor” sounds like something he’d have written in a creative writing class. However, he is also aware of the transience of these golden years as he immediately points out in the opener “I never want this minute to end/ And then it ends” and also the irrelevance of his “achievements” in the real world with the excellent line “In 27 years, I drunk 50,000 beers/ and they just wash against me, like the sea into the pier.” Indeed the fact that Berman released this album when he was 27, emphasises that he was fully in his adult years. Nevertheless the main feeling this album retains is its warmth, and reflects on the close friendships and incredible moments that are shared in the important post-teen years of one’s life. Moreover, the album helped pave the way for one of the greatest lyricists of the past 20 years.