Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here
Artist: Silver Jews
Title: American Water
Original Release: 1998
Label: Drag City
Store: Big Star Records, 160 Magil Rd, Norwood, Adelaide
Big Star records is an Adelaide institution. Every major city in Australia had their premiere indie record shop. Adelaide’s was Big Star. It is, of course, named after the the great rock band (before that rock band got quite famous), and they would sell t-shirts and have stickers that recreated the logo from Big Star’s #1 Record. I would wear my short overseas and people would think it’s the band.
In the last 10 years, CD and physical retail has taken a blow, and taken many of this country’s great record shops with them. Big Star in Adelaide closed their city store. However, the original store in Norwood, a little corner shop really, still exists. It’s not far from the city, and Norwood is a pretty cool hub these days.
There’s not a huge selection, but there’s plenty of new indie CDs and box sets, etc. Whereas a shop like Canberra’s Landspeed has expanded to t-shirts and merch, Big Star is all about – or just about – the music. There are small new and used vinyl collection – with some collectables. There wasn’t much, but I assume with the record fair and so many tourists in town, maybe the shelves were cleared before I got there.
What was on the shelf was a new copy of American Water by the Silver Jews. Quick check on the Drag City website shows it’s currently in print. I assume this is just evergreen stock for Big Star. This record, I assume, was one of their biggest sellers at a time. This almost totally forgotten record.
This album was pretty big news when it came out. It was the Pavement angle – Stephen Malkmus plays on this record, and with other members of Pavement on previous Silver Jews albums. The last Pavement album, Brighten the Corners, was so good, that people bought whatever Malkmus did next. I certainly did. I just wanted to head back into the world that Brighten the Corners had brought me into. With some added David Berman.
It seemed like, for a whole year, everyone listened to this album. Both Youth Group’s Toby Martin and Soap Star Joe covered songs from it immediately (Random Rules and Honk If You’re Lonely Tonight respectively). Pitchfork gave it 10 out of 10. In a couple of years, the whole idea of what indie music was would change overnight. Until that day, this was one of the most loved and popular American indie records of the 90s.
The vinyl package doesn’t bring much to the party. A lyric sheet insert and a label that recreates the disc art. It was never a album with a great package anyway. But it’s a lovely vinyl record. It’s short and sweet and full of ideas. It’s a very lovable little album.
And I love it too. It’s one of those albums I know by heart. The weird lyrical asides, the catchy and dissonant guitars that slink over the songs. Then there was Berman, part hopeless romantic, part beat poet, with that deep Stephen Merritt voice. You’d think that this album would have propelled them to the next level, but Berman wasn’t really a star. Three more albums followed, but his method of indie rock fell out of style. Silver Jews broke up in 2009.