|wall of sound
new malkmus album straight from japan!!
it is with great pleasure that i bring you this *in-depth* review of the new stephen malkmus album. and it is with even greater pleasure that i get to listen to this album on a constant loop until "laser-rot" requires that i purchase another copy.
for any true pavement fan, the release of a solo record by the former frontman is a big deal. for me, it is more like an epiphany. and the truth of this is evidenced in the fact that i have spun this disc upwards of 40 times since receiving it around 8:00 p.m. on monday. in fact, it is spinning in my desktop machine as i type this.
for years, rumors swirled around the indie music scene of the demise of the pavement. thruout all those years, the boys always assured us that "they were just taking time for families and whatnot." again and again, they would just "show up" with a new cd and a new tour to fawn over; smashing those rumors into tiny indie-cred-less bits of bird-cage lining.
it was kinda fun. kind of annoying in ways (such as, having to pass on whatever pat explanation came from their agent to everyone who asked me about the breakup), but nonetheless interesting. we were like harbingers on the perimeter; fending off heinous rumors, jousting for the honor of the pavement, slaughtering anything that got in our way. it was great.
then somehow the trail went cold. we heard no news and we heard no rumors. the only blip of information was that a dvd ("the slow century") was in the works and would be released in the year 2000. unfortunately, there seems to be some fucking problem in getting this to market even a year late. to add insult to injury, there are seventeen reviews for this damn thing on
[how the hell did these folks get a copy and not me? i shall bequeath special privilege upon anyone who mails me his dvd (or a copy).]
to recap, "the man" is yet again keeping us down by not delivering the pavement dvd as promised. and perhaps (time permitting, of course) we should riot.
after reading a recent interview with stevie in elle magazine, i became slightly more enlightened. journalistic tricks and editing snafus aside, malkmus reports that "creatively, we broke up a long time ago" and adds "it got to the point where i was just forcing my will on those guys." this is interesing to me for one main reason; as acutely as i observed this band for years, this never was apparent to me. with the exception of
built to spill, i have never observed a group of
band mates perform so well or so naturally together as i did with pavement. not to conjecture that they would never experience any difficulties, but musically i thought they were as tight-knit as a cashmere sweater.
so, i guess all the nostalgia-reeling-in-a-haze-of-fractured-hearts that overwhelmed their last release
(terror twilight known to some as murder mystery) was malkmus shining thru. i know that it challenged a lot of pavement fans, most of whom felt it "just wasn't rockin' enough" or wanted to know "whose idea was it to have all the wussy songs?" it seemed to me that this was just the maturing of their sound and that the change might have been indicative of where the members were "at" at that given time. instead, it might have been the test bed for this new album by stephen.
of trivial importance was the news spread late last year of malkmus forming a band called "the jicks." to my knowledge, this album was supposed to be released under that name. instead, it was released under his name with an eponymous album title. however, the cd itself has "jicks" written on it (in addition to some little geometric shapes that resemble his initials). cute, huh? was it determined that the name "stephen malkmus" would sell more records than "the jicks?" perhaps. my inside source tells me that "the record company pretty much strong-armed him into going with his name, rather than the jicks. however, they're calling themselves the jicks at the shows." ahhh... a little bit of record biz nastiness? thankfully, it hasn't influenced his songwriting.
is that enough "adieu" or what??
what can i say? this album if fantastic. and it just keeps on giving. stevie was even coy enough to write in the cd booklet "i gave you a continuous present."
thank you, stephen et al. thank you thruout the years.
the first few seconds of "black book" sound similar to material from peter gabriel's
passion; lending an almost mystical quality to the opening of the album. this quickly transforms into a slinky, gravely guitar track that makes me think of liz phair singing "snaking around in the club." and its not often that you get to hear "kreuzberg" worked into a rock song.
with "phantasies" we are right back to the plucky territory previously occupied by "carrot rope." this could be apples in stereo if you stripped away the "tear off the top" alter-chorus. comes complete with handclaps.
my new fave "jo jo's jacket" opens with some guy talking about how shaving his head has freed him from "stupid vanities" and "simplified everything." i'll assume this is yul brynner talking about his bald ass because that is who stephen claims to be in the opening lines. supposedly, this song is intended to poke fun at moby and his pseudo-enlightenment spiel. perfect.
this is already a surf-rock classic as far as i can see. any song that proclaims
"you're such monumental slime
let the punishment fit the crime
we'll tie you to a chair
the house music will blare
and turn your ears into medicinal jelly"
has to be cool, right? cool thomas mentioned to me that this was the track they opened with when he saw them perform recently in portland. i shall wait until
march 27th to see if they are still opening with it.
it really isn't until track four, "church on white" when the sappy love song with pretty melody theme comes along. i have no idea how he does it, but stephen has the ability to reduce me to a puddle of weeping emotion. his songs have done so for years and this is definitely the *new* one. the guitar crescendo right before the three minute mark is enough to debilitate me for the rest of the day.
"but all you ever wanted was everything
and everything plus the truth
i only poured you half a lie."
"the hook" must be the pick-me-up piece after "church on white" because it is one quirky, humorous account of being kidnapped by turkish pirates. this upbeat, mid-tempo track hefts itself along with the spirit of a good creedence song. if you interpret the lyrics too literally, i'm sure you could be bothered by "we were just killers with the cold eyes of a sailor." but its all in good fun.
track six "discretion grove" sounds a lot like a pavement song. in fact, the breakdown that begins at 2:10 includes a *patented* pavement guitar hook. once i figure out where that sound comes from, i'll post it here!
"troubbble" is a strange, yet compelling one minute, thirty-eight seconds that seems to make absolutely no sense. good thing i am not responsible for interpreting what is meant by each word on each line in each song. good luck with that project. years ago, i read an interview in which steve proclaimed that there is not much sense overall in the lyics he writes. he is mostly going for wordplay and always trying to place not-necessarily-similar words next to each other to see how they sound when sung. i think he prefers it that we all create our own meaning and context around his songs (instead of consuming whatever personal reasons he might have had).
dreamy, sweet, and lazy is how i would describe "pink india;" which tells the tale of a vicar caste member named mortimer who is sent off to "asia expansion land/ determined to be a man." "pink india" glides along smoothly, caressing your ears with warm vocals and gentle guitars. towards the end, the momentum builds into a locomotive-type jam (a la "folk jam" from
terror twilight). but the coolest thing is in the middle of the song (beginning at 2:54). out of the left channel, there is this guitar feedback that sounds like the pro and con of the given note being played; coming in waves. very cool. try it out with headphones or a well-balanced audio system.
the partner to "church on white" is "trojan curfew." consider it a warm, snug blanket which allows one to languish in stephen's vocals for a while. the narrative vacillates from greek gods carousing while awaiting the "sacrifices" to his experience with a "trashed blond scandi" who mistook him for a swede.
steve's shot at jamacia funk is "vague space" and how nicely it makes use of the old steel drum. this song also possesses the power to carry one away into a dream state. definitely the best new reggae song i've heard since finley quaye's "ultra stimulation." honestly, it sounds like steve doing his best mick jagger impersonation of a bob marley song.
there are some things in this world that i enjoy for the strangest reasons. track eleven "jenny & the ess-dog" would be one of those things. besides being a simply awesome sing-a-long rock anthem, it is also a close look at a mismatched may-december couple. what really makes me love this song is the use of the name "ess-dog." it just sounds cool and looks cool. so cool, in fact that i want to be called "ess-dog" from now on. and the story has a sad ending which makes me like it even more. all about a long distance relationship that breaks up and with each following a different path. poor, poor ess-dog.
"deado" is the end of the album for you poor american schmucks. [oh, did i forget to mention that this exclusive japanese copy has an *ultra*special* thirteenth track where malkmus goes on at length about how awesome it is to have matusiak at his shows? okay, well it isn't *exactly* about that, but it is how i am interpreting it.] i've not much to say about "deado." it is a slower track and not
that compelling, but interesting nonetheless.
the thirteenth track is titled "polish mule" and that is at least one reason for thinking he is referring to me. i mean, come on -- how many polocks out there are pavement fans? this is a driving rock song that does a much better job of ending the album than "deado."
overall, the experience of listening to and reviewing this album has been pure bliss. i have not heard much new malkmus material since the
terror twilight. it is always nice to have liner notes, but the english lyrics are rife with inaccuracies. i imagine these were either translated incorrectly or perhaps these were the lyrics as provided by/to the record company. either way, if you want an accurate account of the lyrical content, you'll have to do it yourself (or wait for someone else on the internet to do it). the existing liner notes are sometimes helpful for understanding hard-to-distinguish vocals and as a bonus, i now have all of the lyrics in japanese.
many props go to koyanagi ken for this wonderful gift. hope all is well for you malkmus/pavement fans out there.
stevie's on tour now! check your local listings!!