Purple Mountains (album)

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Purple Mountains
Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains.png
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 12, 2019
  • Jamdek, Chicago, Illinois
  • Thump, Brooklyn, New York
GenreIndie rock
LabelDrag City
Singles from Purple Mountains
  1. "All My Happiness Is Gone"
    Released: May 10, 2019
  2. "Darkness and Cold"
    Released: June 11, 2019
  3. "Margaritas at the Mall"
    Released: June 28, 2019

Purple Mountains is the only studio album by American indie rock band Purple Mountains. The eponymous album was released on July 12, 2019 by Drag City.[1][2][3][4] It is the last album by David Berman before his death on August 7, 2019.[5]

Purple Mountains was the first new studio album from David Berman since the disbandment of Silver Jews in 2009. Created over the course of five years, the album went through various failed attempts at writing and recording with various different sets of musicians and producers. It was eventually recorded with members of the band Woods in 2018, recording in both Chicago and Brooklyn. Woods members Jarvis Taveniere and Jeremy Earl produced the album. The album's themes were inspired by the death of Berman's mother, his retirement from music, his struggles with depression, and his strained relationship with his wife. Berman also made the album in hopes of paying down a six-figure debt he had built up. It was preceded by the singles "All My Happiness Is Gone", "Darkness and Cold", and "Margaritas at the Mall". On release, the album received positive reception from critics.

Background and recording[edit]

When Silver Jews disbanded in 2009, David Berman retreated to his house in Nashville, Tennessee and "buried" himself in books. He was frustrated with the reception to the final Silver Jews album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, which was released in 2008. In an interview with The Washington Post in 2019, Berman said, "I saw no one and did nothing."[6] Berman, who long suffered from treatment-resistant depression, said in a podcast interview with Vish Khanna in 2019, "There probably were a hundred nights over the last ten years where I was sure I wouldn't make it to the morning. Yeah, I'm a very depressed person. And I felt even worse about myself as time went on and I wasn't doing anything. So I do feel better now having completed this project."[7] When his mother died in 2014,[8] Berman was inspired exactly a week later to pick up his guitar and play while he was in her house in Wooster, Ohio. He eventually came back to the chord progression he had played and it became "I Loved Being My Mother's Son", the first song finished for the album. He also separated from his wife of twenty years, Cassie Berman.[9][10] Berman said they did not divorce and were still friends, commenting, "She's all I have as far as family anymore." The polarity between both their personalities and interests is the subject of the album's sixth track, "She's Making Friends, I'm Turning Stranger".[7] Berman also attributed his return to music as a necessity for an income in order to pay down the over $100,000 of debt he amassed in credit card debt and loans, which he said was always over his head and "draining to worry about."[11]

The album was originally to be produced in Vancouver by Dan Bejar, but sessions were later scrapped.

Shortly after the disbandment of Silver Jews, Berman befriended The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, who recently moved to Nashville. The two would sometimes collaborate, with Auerbach writing music and Berman writing lyrics, but Berman backed out as Auerbach focused on other projects. However, Auerbach has a songwriting credit on the tenth and final track on Purple Mountains, "Maybe I'm the Only One for Me". Auerbach's side project, The Arcs, performed an early version of the song on their 2016 tour.[12][13] Berman also attempted to work with his longtime friend, Pavement frontman, and fellow founding member of Silver Jews, Stephen Malkmus. He also recorded an entire album with Black Mountain in Vancouver but it was scrapped. Berman also worked with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who did spec production work on a few songs, but Berman decided to go in a different direction for the full album.[6]

Berman went on an "extended eight-month West Coast walkabout".[14] He spent time writing in Joshua Tree, California. His wife Cassie came out for his 50th birthday in January 2017 and they rented a place in Malibu, California. He then drove to Portland, Oregon and rented another place for three months in order to write. Part of his West Coast trip was spent working to make the album with Canadian musician and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar. Berman did not know Bejar personally but was a fan of his music and had read Bejar say positive things of Silver Jews. He originally reached out to Bejar through e-mail in the fall of 2016,[15] and Bejar said he had never produced before but was willing to give it a try. Berman later traveled to and rented a place in Point Roberts, Washington, a US enclave located south of Bejar's native Vancouver where he attempted to write but found he could not finish the lyrics. Bejar recommended recording the music first and finishing the lyrics later. They worked for weeks and recorded full songs but Berman felt the music was "rigid" and he found that writing lyrics for the music, which he had never done before, was impossible. He eventually returned to his home in Nashville. On February 14, 2018, Valentine's Day, Berman separated from his wife and drove from Nashville to Miller Beach, a neighborhood of Gary, Indiana. He lived in Gary for part of 2018 in a house owned by Drag City. He also spent part of 2018 in Vancouver recording demos with Stephen Malkmus and Bejar.[7][8][6][16][17][18][9] In a January 2020 interview with Pitchfork, Bejar reflected that he had trouble getting Berman to sing in the studio and that, compared to the songs on Purple Mountains, the songs they recorded were "incredibly loud and brittle and dry and compressed" with vocals similar to that of Serge Gainsbourg. Bejar also revealed that there are "halfway to final mixes of an album's worth of music" but that decision to release them is up to Drag City. Bejar also said that he is unsure if Berman "would have wanted the world to hear it."[15]

Jeremy Earl (left) and Jarvis Taveniere (right) of the band Woods produced the album in Chicago.

Berman later moved to Chicago, Illinois, living alone in a spare room above the Drag City office. He eventually reached out to Jeremy Earl of the band Woods very early in the morning by email. He asked Earl and fellow Woods member Jarvis Taveniere, both of whom he had never spoken to before, to produce the album. The two, who had listened to Silver Jews together for years, agreed almost immediately. The album was recorded primarily at Jamdek Studios in Chicago, with some parts recorded at Thump Studios in Brooklyn, New York. Most of it was recorded live with Berman occupying a booth while Earl and Taveniere were together in another room. Berman had pages of alternate lyrics for each song with him. They did multiple sessions of overdubs and Berman wanted to retry vocals. However, for many of the songs they ended up using the original first take vocals because they were hard to match. The last song made for the album was "Darkness and Cold". The album also features vocals from Anna St. Louis, a songwriter from Kansas City, Missouri who recorded her vocals in an hour during a mixing session in Los Angeles. The album was mixed by Taveniere in November 2018 at Electrical Audio in Chicago.[19][7][8][6][16][20]

Release and promotion[edit]

On December 12, 2018, former Pavement and Silver Jews member Bob Nastanovich revealed on his podcast Three Songs that David Berman would release new music in 2019 under the name Purple Mountains, which was also the name of Berman's blog.[21] The name "Purple Mountains" is a mondegreen of the lyric "Purple mountain majesties" from "America the Beautiful".[8] Although, his blog was also titled Menthol Mountains at times.[22]

On May 10, 2019, the single "All My Happiness Is Gone" was released on vinyl by Drag City. The single included two remixes of the song, "All My Happiness Is Wrong" by Noah Count and "All My Happiness Is Long" by Mark Nevers featuring clipped recordings of Dave Cloud, and also indicated that a full-length album was a "couple months away." It credited Berman as well as Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere, and Aaron Neveu of Woods and songwriter Anna St. Louis.[23][24] The single was released digitally on May 17, 2019 with the announcement of a full-length album.[25] A remix of "All My Happiness Is Gone" by Australian electronic music group The Avalanches, who Berman has collaborated with in the past, was commissioned by him, but a licensing issue prevented their version from being released.[26]

"Darkness and Cold" was released as the album's second single on June 11, 2019.[27]

"Margaritas at the Mall" was released as the album's third and final single on June 28, 2019.[28]


Purple Mountains was set to tour in support of the album, beginning on August 10, 2019 in Kingston, New York and concluding on September 23, 2019 in Los Angeles; however, Berman died three days before the first show was set to occur, leaving the state of the tour uncertain. All dates were located in the United States except for two in Canada. The tour was to feature opening acts Empty Country, Jeffrey Lewis, unmastered Masters, Diane Cluck with Isabel Castellvi, Country Westerns, State Champion, Bill MacKay, Axis: Sova, Xiao Yao, Lightning Dust, and Herman Dune. The tour included a date at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.[29][30] In a Reddit AMA, Berman said he planned to tour Europe in either February or March.[31] Berman had called the tour a "necessity" in order to pay down credit card debt and loans he built up.[7][9]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[34]
Consequence of SoundA−[35]
The Guardian5/5 stars[36]
The Irish Times4/5 stars[37]
Mojo4/5 stars[38]
Q4/5 stars[40]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[41]
The Times4/5 stars[42]

Purple Mountains received positive reviews from critics upon its release. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 87, based on 20 reviews.[33]

Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian praised the album, giving it a perfect score.[36] Writing for Uncut, Erin Osmon gave the album a 9 out of 10, writing, "The 10 songs assembled here owe as much to Townes Van Zandt's picaresque story songs as they do Dylan's sardonic poetics; they all gnaw at the heart and consciousness. Berman sings of life's travails in fluid and acrobatic phrasing, with each spin revealing a nuance in tone or pronunciation that turns the lyric in a profound or unexpected way, a slow reveal that begs repeat listens. It's unequivocally dark, relatable and addictive."[43] Alex Wisgard of The Line of Best Fit called the album "one of the year's most rewarding" and "most honest".[44] Brian Howe of Spin said, "The arrangements, some of the most gracious Berman's ever had, hum and glow with foggy organs and soft golden horns. Their serenity is at odds with his desperation: This is a portrait of a shattered man."[45]

Chris DeVille of Stereogum called the album a "devastating self-portrait, delivered one bracingly literal observation at a time".[46] Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Mark Richardson said that Berman's "lyrics remain idiosyncratic marvels of wrenching, wry hilarity" and "Purple Mountains [...] picks up where his earlier group left off. The production is a bit more ornate and the songs reflect another decade of hard living, but this is a Silver Jews record in all but name, and a very good one."[47] Writing for Slate, Carl Wilson said, "The relative plainspokenness of Purple Mountains is a sign of a maturing craft, of not wanting to play evasive games."[48] Lauren Murphy of The Irish Times said, "At all times, Berman's ruminative voice is a commanding force over scuffled indie, toe-tappy country pop and occasional Mariachi-style infusions of brass. It's good to have him back."[37]

In a less favorable review, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times said, "Although his monotonous vocal style and a lack of musical variation prevent the album from really taking off, its movement towards consolation with the irresistible "Storyline Fever" feels like a deserved victory."[49]

Year-end lists[edit]

Publication List Rank Ref.
Bandcamp Daily The Best Albums of 2019
BrooklynVegan Top 50 Albums of 2019
Consequence of Sound Top 50 Albums of 2019
The Line of Best Fit The Best Albums of 2019
Loud and Quiet Best 40 albums of 2019
Mojo The 75 Best Albums of 2019
Now The 10 best albums of 2019
Paste The 50 Best Albums of 2019
Pitchfork The 50 Best Albums of 2019
PopMatters The 70 Best Albums of 2019
Q The 50 Albums of the Year
The Ringer The Best Albums of 2019
Rolling Stone The 50 Best Albums of 2019
Slant Magazine The 25 Best Albums of 2019
Spectrum Culture Top 20 Albums of 2019
Spin The 10 Best Albums of 2019
Sputnikmusic Top 50 Albums of 2019
Stereogum The 50 Best Albums of 2019
Uncut The Top 75 Albums of the Year
Uproxx The Best Albums of 2019
Vice The 100 Best Albums of 2019

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by David Berman, except where noted.

1."That's Just the Way That I Feel"3:23
2."All My Happiness Is Gone"4:20
3."Darkness and Cold"3:58
4."Snow Is Falling in Manhattan"6:03
5."Margaritas at the Mall"3:54
6."She's Making Friends, I'm Turning Stranger"4:11
7."I Loved Being My Mother's Son"4:20
8."Nights That Won't Happen"6:08
9."Storyline Fever"4:46
10."Maybe I'm the Only One for Me" (Berman, Dan Auerbach, Gate Pratt)3:18
Total length:44:21


Credits adapted from liner notes.[20]



  • Jarvis Taveniere – production, engineering, mixing
  • Jeremy Earl – production
  • Dan Koretzky – executive production
  • Cooper Crain – auxiliary recording
  • Peyton Pinkerton – auxiliary recording
  • Carl Saff – lacquer cut



Chart (2019) Peak
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[71] 7
UK Independent Album Breakers (OCC)[72] 1


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