06 March, 2008

Where the Pavement ends

Stephen Malkmus started out in the Portland indie band Pavement. On their '90s release Slanted and Enchanted, they stayed true to their title and slanted and enchanted the music scene for years to come. It was with a soft blend of grungey distortion and twee lyrical delivery that the band seemed to pull contemporary indie rock from their instruments, fully formed and ready for the hipsters. I'm only being a little sarcastic.

On Tuesday, Malkmus released a different kind of album with his band the Jicks. On Real Emotional Trash Malkmus retains the right to write songs that sound like Pavement. He's mostly thrown out the uncontrolled distortional quality, but the songs sound like something Pavement would record with a little age and a little more time spent listening to the Grateful Dead and Dylan. It's melodic and peppy, and a pleasure to listen to.

Start with a little "Dragonfly Pie", which borrows heavily from '70s hard rock. Hear the buzzing, humming, heavy energy? That's the sound of Malkmus' genre experimentation. Jump to "Hopscotch William" and you can hear the influence of Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek on the chorus. The following guitar solo is Hendrix inspired, if not fully realized as a burning, floating, passionate explosion of guitar sound. "Cold Son" realizes child-like psychedelia, then gallops along to meet the simmering piano descent of "Real Emotional Trash". The lyrics on "Baltimore" are delivered with the plain enthusiasm of every song on this album, but when you listen closely, this feels a little wrong. Malkmus sings: "You've got the energy of a classic creep, with sex bought from aisles and shark eyes asleep...". Part of me wants to know what that means, and part of me is too caught up in the music to care.

I think Malkmus counts on his listeners being torn between complete attraction to the music he's making, and complete confusion as to what that music really is. It's clear on the bonus track "Walk Into the Mirror" that he had the intention of making this album a 1960s and '70s cliche with '90s sarcasm. He's laughing at the stereotypes, but he's not denying them. In fact, Malkmus seems to be backing up musical cliches with every instrument and clever lyric in his repertoire. It's here where Malkmus gets closer to and further from his roots than ever before. Where Pavement mashed sounds together to make the epitome of '90s music, Malkmus is now weaving the threads of the '60s and '70s into a much cleaner album, and openly acknowledging his debts to the past.

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