Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' Real Emotional Trash

Yet more mellow gold

Nonsense in the mouth of the average indie bard is visionary poetry, maybe even sage wisdom when sung by Stephen Malkmus. Call this a free pass, call it eminence, or call it what it is: the damn truth. Over the last few years, the former Pavement frontman's solo material has taken a playful turn—which is to say, he's kept on keeping on, just with more synths. Malkmus-at-play produced fantastic results on 2005's Face the Truth; that album's silliest track, "Kindling for the Master," occasioned an EP of imaginative remixes featuring turns from Hot Chip and Major Swellings (a/k/a Lindstrøm co-conspirator Prins Thomas). If one must plot the changes, he's neither mellowed nor intensified, but taken an increasingly intense approach to mellowness.

This paradox makes Malkmus's new, apparently pell-mell album of apparently easygoing California jam rock a difficult read. Difficult, that is, if you're looking for visionary poetry. The tunes on Real Emotional Trash neutralize thoughtful interrogations with miles and miles of pleasant fuck-around riffage. The title track achieves a splendid fusion of the Allman Brothers and latter-day Sonic Youth, and although word-gamesmanship abounds ("Abstract citizen/The abstract city sun"), the best lines, such as this couplet from "Cold Son," are surprisingly lucid: "Sometimes it feels like the world's stuffed with feathers/Table-bottom gum just holdin' it together."

But with Malkmus, a spade is never a spade, and his usual counterinclinations set Trash aquake with tension: pop that's coy but direct but rambling but surreal. The album's both a nonentity and a feast; furthermore, its most straightforward track, the chilling "Cold Son," features wah-wah guitar.

 
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