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.