As the Silver Jews' poet in residence, Dave Berman has always been a master at wrestling the humor out of melancholy. Uncommonly literate, his take on the usual indie rock themes of anomie, loneliness and longing was especially unusual insofar as Berman constantly seemed to be making fun of his own sadness. Even on the jokiest tunes, such as American Water's "Honk If You're Lonely," the joke seemed to be on Berman himself. As a writer, Berman at once appears to despise sincerity and to be incapable of avoiding it. His humor is black, wounded. It was generally the music that turned on the lights. After four years, Tanglewood Numbers find Berman trading in melancholy for outright despair. The record is one long howl, but as usual, it's mostly a howl of laughter. It's hard to say why the "K-Hole" couplet "I'd rather live in a trash can/than see you happy with another man" is so funny; it just is, especially when Berman spits it out in the middle of such a slickly produced rollicker. By the end of the album, however, there's no laughing left. "There Is A Place," the noisy, rowdy closing track, finds Berman "taking a hammer" to the whole world, rejecting God, and basically giving up. Strange: He's never sounded so alive.
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