Music

Stephen Malkmus: self-titled

John Kenyon

Stephen Malkmus

Stephen Malkmus

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2001-02-13
Amazon
iTunes

Stephen Malkmus didn't just lose a band when he split from Pavement last year. He shucked an albatross from 'round his neck.

Thank God he did. Against all expectations -- from this corner, anyway -- Malkmus has crafted his most mature, accomplished and sophisticated collection of songs to date. If it took losing the band to free his muse, well, see ya', Spiral, Ibold et al. Been nice knowing you.

While this solo bow lacks the immediate spark and brash energy of Slanted and Enchanted, it trumps nearly everything else Pavement released, and will resonant far longer than even groundbreaking debut.

When Pavement ground to a halt after the tour for Terror Twilight, who could be blamed for breathing a sigh of relief? What started as a fresh burst of creativity -- first as the bastard children of Lou Reed and the Fall, later a singular voice in the alt-rock wasteland, a voice equally influenced by the Dead and the Velvets -- became a bloated, directionless, five-headed beast.

At the end, the band didn't seem capable of making a coherent musical statement. Terror Twilight is a meandering disc, a recorded document of the band's slide into jam-band land. The songs don't so much stop and start as creep into being and then fade away. Yet it does contain some of Malkmus's most cogent pop moments, including the lead single, "Spit on a Stranger". But much of this drags. Sure it must have been fun to play this if you were in the band, but such noodling is better left to the rehearsal space.

Whether it was by design or luck, Malkmus sheds this excess and indulgence on his new disc, trimming the songs back to their catchiest, most well-structured core. All his quirks are present and accounted for, more so, in fact, than they have been since the early days of Pavement. He regains the Lou Reed-like blunt delivery of old on "The Hook", and ups the fun quotient considerably throughout.

In doing so, he finds the right balance between forced obscurity and pop sensibility. The best moments here are the most brazenly pop, from the jaunty keyboard tune "Phantasies" to the Yul Brynner tribute "Jo Jo's Jacket". (That's no interpretation: "I'm the king of Siam / I've got a bald head / My name is Yul Brynner / And I am a famous movie star.") The xylophone-like tones that carry the melody of "Troubbble" are worthy of a Saturday morning kids TV show theme, while "Discretion Grove" is a layered slice of pure boogie.

But all is not whimsy and quips. "Church on White", an elegy of sorts for late author Robert Bingham (an Open City editor and Malkmus chum) is hushed and reverent, perhaps the most touching thing this wisecracking ironist has ever penned. Meanwhile, "Jenny & the Ess-Dog" tells the tale of an 18-year-old girl dating a 31-year-old cover band member. He covers a lot of ground in a short space, including the couple's love of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms.

The most impressive thing about this disc, however, is the sound. It is a full, fleshed-out production, one that shows a lot of effort in arrangement and recording. That Malkmus did so with a trio, playing all of the guitar himself, shows how much Pavement was holding him back. His band, the moonlighting Joanna Bolme and John Moen on bass and drums, respectively), offers able accompaniment, but this is clearly a solo record at its most literal.

With Pavement in the rear-view, he was free from the constraint of both his bandmates wishes and the public's expectations. Sure, this sounds at its heart like a Pavement record, but that's only because, to a large extent, Malkmus was Pavement. Thing is, he couldn't make the best Pavement record until he left the band. Weird, huh?



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.