With their sly inversion of many of country music’s oldest tropes and imagery – including references to Tennessee, jukeboxes, and of course trains – and weird brand of southern mythology, it should come as no surprise that we here at Lonesome Whistles are big fans of the Silver Jews. Trains Across the Sea is off Starlite Walker, the Jews breakthrough album, recorded after the band holed up in the woods outside Oxford, Mississippi. Perhaps this song was inspired by the Southern gothic environs, the Faulknerian darkness that lurks underneath Oxford’s small-town southern veneer, or at least by the remnants of the abandoned Illinois Central line through and outside the town.
As befits a Silver Jews song, things get a little weird in Trains Across the Sea. Dissonant chords in the introduction give way to the narrator’s dreams of trains across the sea and his assorted troubles “on the line” – missed connections, scotch and penicillin, sin and gravity, 50,000 beers – and the imagery of ephemeral trains drifting across the sea helps convey themes of distance, alienation, and of going somewhere uncertain. Lyrics hit a little close to home here towards the end – (in 27 years / I drunk 50 thousand beers / and they just wash against me like sea onto a pier). As someone living through a period of general mid-20s angst and uncertainty, or dare I say a quarter-life crisis, trains across the sea nails it to be a perfect expression of and, like the best of the Silver Jews catalog, manages to be both gorgeous and somewhat unsettling.