30 August 2006

Stephen Malkmus: Stephen Malkmus

When Pavement broke up, every member went in completely different directions. Bob Nastanovich owns horses, Steve West is a stonemason, and Stephen Malkmus, Pavement's driving force, is doing what he was born to do: make music.
The stereotypes for solo albums like this are inevitable - it's only for fans of their band, it won't be as good as the band... and although it's definitely not in Pavement's league, Malkmus has turned in a new direction with new band the Jicks, with a new take on songwriting. He seems to want to write songs properly for a change. No nonsense, like on 'Type Slowly' (Brighten the Corners) "One of us is a cigar stand and one of us is a lovely blue incandescent guillotine". Another example is Stereo. Contrarily, in the singalong 'Jenny and the Ess-Dog', Malkmus narrates a simple love story of a couple who can't make up the distance between their years, as he poetically puts it, showing perfectly understandable songwriting. In a couple of other tracks, such as the insane 'Jojo's Jacket', we get a taste of Malkmus simply going wild, focusing of the catchiness of the tune more than anything else. Malkmus uses things like percussion, effects pedals, and vocals more creatively in this album, but it just doesn't quite hit you in the same way as Pavement. Of course, it works... in 'The Hook', we have cowbell, shakers, and a drumkit; when you're singing about pirates anything goes. Later, in the slower 'Vague Space', probably the album's highlight, we get wah-effects, steel drums, and keys.
The album does have its letdowns, the boring 'Trojan Curfew', and album opener 'Black Book' fails to excite in any way.
I'm glad I decided to show interest in Malkmus' work, after he abandoned Pavement to basically do it all himself. Some songs just wouldn't've worked with Pavement, fans will know what I mean. (An example of something that really belongs on a Pavement record is 'Discretion Grove'). And is it just for these fans? I think not. Many people will prefer this coherence to Pavement, but personally I'm not one of them. This is the sound of an artist trying to do something new, but struggling in these new surroundings. Only slightly, I hasten to add.

PS: Handy linkage. Wikipedia article, Amazon profile, and a professional review.

No comments: