It's funny how when it comes to the artists that have made lasting impacts on me for whatever reasons, most of the time, I can't even recall exactly how I came across them. Such is the case with David Berman. I don't exactly remember when I first heard his rightly celebrated Silver Jews project, either from an old mixtape a friend made me or finding one of their CDs in the bargain bins of some long gone music store, but what I do remember is how much of an impression the music made on me; from the simple and sometimes ragged, but always tuneful arrangements to how he delivered his words in an often lackadaisical tone. And his words are what truly set him apart from most of his peers at the time. Hell, we're talking about a guy that kicked off arguably one of the best Silver Jews albums--1998's American Water--with the line: "In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection."

A gifted poet and lyricist whose 1999 poetry collection Actual Air is a must read, he had a knack for writing songs that were funny as the were clever and also moving. To say his use of language was unique is stating the obvious, his songs can be tricky to navigate and even a little difficult to put into words. But almost all of them are damn fun (and even downright heartbreaking), never fail to find their mark straight to the heart, and are ever quotable. Take for example lines like "Punks in the beerlight, two burnouts in love/ I always loved you to the max," from the unrepentantly sloppy ode to alcoholism and drug use of 'Punks in the Beerlight'; "The alleys are the footnotes of the avenues" from 'Smith & Jones Forever'; or "No I don't really wanna die/ I only wanna die in your eyes," from 'How to Rent a Room'.

Those are are just a few of the many great songs Berman wrote bursting with memorable lines depicting the sorrows and carefree joy we experience in our lives, and you could easily spend an entire night working through his catalog quoting song after song from each album. Even at times when you stumble across the occasional clunker (and there are a few), you still come away with a chunk of something beautiful from it. Regardless if he were writing about the most trivial aspects of every day life or digging deeper into his own often troubled personal realm, how he approached those subjects is what set him apart. His natural gift for language and prose gave all of those things a kind of impressionistic and even abstract quality which somehow made them seem both extraordinary and even more relatable.

Throughout his career, Berman said he wanted his music to be understood, and you could argue that he achieved that goal more than anything on what sadly turned out to be his final album with his new project, Purple Mountains. Inspired by the death of his mother, these are probably the most personal and also straight forward songs Berman has ever written, and he spares no expense in laying bare the most intimate aspects of his life, from his strained relationship with his wife to his struggles with depression, growing feelings of isolation, and even suicide. "You see the life I live is sickening/ I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion," he sings on opener 'That's Just the Way That I Feel'. It's Berman at his most self-deprecating and unapologetically honest without sacrificing any of the wit and wordplay that has always made his work so special. Songs like 'All My Happiness Is Gone' and 'Nights That Won't Happen' are also bruising in their honesty. "All my happiness is gone/ it's all gone somewhere beyond," he sings on the former, while the latter is a blunt take on suicide and the aftermath, "When the dying's finally done and the suffering subsides/ all the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind."

It's an album often filled with deep sadness, but thankfully, the music--which is lush and bursting with a much needed warmth--provides enough beauty to prevent it from being an overwhelming experience. It doesn't hurt either that Berman never lost his sense of humor and was still capable of tossing out the kind of one-liners that come out of left field and leave you with a dumb grin on your face. Having dealt with substance abuse, treatment-resistant depression, and surviving two unintentional overdoses and a suicide attempt in between the dissolution of Silver Jews and forming Purple Mountains after a decade of complete isolation, it's no wonder it feels so draining at times. Which makes it almost a little too easy to try and find some connection between the album's themes and the timing of his death not long after its release. Framing Purple Mountains as some deliberate farewell on the part of Berman would be to tarnish the quality of the music itself and his legacy for that matter. It's more likely he simply turned to the only thing he really had throughout his life: creating music as a means of coping with his demons and to reach out and attempt to make sense of a life that likely never made much sense to him. This time, though, it wasn't really enough to sustain him.

"No I don't really want to die/ I only want to die in your eyes" he sang on 'How to Rent a Room' from Silver Jews' 1996 album The Natural Bridge (a personal favorite) and, for a while at least, he did just that. Had he never returned to making music again, his death would still have mattered just as much to those that have been moved the most by his work. Purple Mountains has made it matter that much more and also more awful, especially because it now stands as an unintentional parting gift from an imperfect and mess of a human being whose gift for words and connecting with other outsiders was something truly remarkable.