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Stephen Malkmus

Stephen Malkmus

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Album Review

Much like the Pixies' Trompe Le Monde, Pavement's swan song, Terror Twilight, sounded a lot like a disguised solo album from the group's chief singer/songwriter, Stephen Malkmus. The album's polished production and earnest, ambitious songwriting — not to mention lack of Scott Kannberg songs — sounded miles away from the playful, slightly chaotic rock that made albums like Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain so exciting. Yet Malkmus' actual solo debut, aptly named Stephen Malkmus, reclaims some of the energetic creativity of Pavement's best albums. In fact, it sounds like the most fun he's had in a studio since Wowee Zowee. This may be because he didn't have to deal with the confines and expectations of a new Pavement album; Malkmus didn't originally plan to release the album through Matador, which possibly removed some of the pressure to make a "statement" with this collection. Which is good, because instantly catchy, zany songs like "Troubbble" might not have made it to the album. Stephen Malkmus begins with a rush of these vibrantly playful songs, including "Phantasies," a fey mix of falsetto vocals, pennywhistles, handclaps, marimbas, and other bizarre musical non sequiturs, and "JoJo's Jacket," a whimsical, stream-of-consciousness ode to Yul Brenner: "Perhaps you saw me in Westworld/I acted like a robotic cowboy/It was my best role/I cannot deny/I felt right home deep inside/that electronic carcass." Like most of the album, these songs take a few aspects of what made Pavement great and magnify them. The beautiful, chiming "Church on White" is one of Malkmus' best sweeping, emotional guitar epics since "Grounded" or "Fin"; "Vague Space" and "Deado"'s sweet, quirky romanticism balances earnestness and irony in the way Pavement tried to on Terror Twilight, but avoids that album's oddly distant sound. And while the surprisingly straightforward rocker "Discretion Grove" and "Trojan Curfew" — a pretty, countrified ballad about the Trojan War that rhymes "doric arch" with "pyhrric march" — could have fit on Pavement's later works, Stephen Malkmus does feature some twists and turns that differentiate the album from Malkmus' old band. The groovy keyboards laced through songs like "Pink India" and "Jennifer and the Ess-Dog," a funny, poignant ballad about a neo-hippie couple going their separate ways, give the album different textures than those Pavement explored. Likewise, the Stonesy tale about being a pirate, "The Hook" — which sounds like the ship's crew is listening to a bar band while taking a rum break — just doesn't seem like the type of song Pavement would have recorded at the end of their career. Actually, the song that sounds the most like late-'90s Pavement, the chugging album opener "Black Book," is the most out of place with the rest of Stephen Malkmus' fun, lighthearted tone. Though placing most of the zippy, instantly catchy songs near the top of the album works against it somewhat, as a whole it's refreshingly free of the typical solo debut's gravity and earnestness. By keeping things light, Stephen Malkmus — the album and, very likely, the person — defies heavy analysis from critics and fans. No, it's not quite the same as another Pavement album, but its literate, funny eclecticism is almost as irresistible.

Customer Reviews

Simply phenomenal.

Terror Twilight was an odd end for Pavement. The relatively somber album never quite tapped into the zany spirit that the band was known for. However, being a Pavement fan (as anyone who has ever listened to them eventually becomes) I was curious to the direction front man Stephen Malkmus would take on his inaugural solo run. Picking up the Discretion Grove promo single set any concerns I had to rest. Malkmus' lyrics are noticeably less abstract than the typical Pavement fare. Tales of touring Alaska (Phantasies), piracy (The Hook) and a juxtaposed couple (Jenny and the Ess-Dog) come off as extremely genuine and captivating. Jo Jo's Jacket hits with delicious intensity only to bring the listener back down with the beautiful Church on White. I cannot say enough good things about this album and this artist. Pavement may be history and it's artists may be scattered but there is nothing to worry about. Stephen Malkmus is still making albums that continue to define his spirit for the unconventional while providing a profound mature sound that will definately find it's way to the top of your library. A simply phenomenal album.

Great album!

My disappointment after the demise of Pavement was quickly laid to rest after buying this album. I listen to this album much more than Terror Twilight. At first I thought it was a bit too "pop," but repeated listening found me liking it more and more. I would say my favorite track on this album is Discretion Grove.

Poppier alone? Maybe. All the better for it? Definitely.

As a late-in-the-day Pavement fan, my first taste of Malkmus' work was the infamous Terror Twilight, which I adored and still hold in regard as arguably their best. On hearing Stephen Malkmus it is hard to resist the creeping feeling that the end of Pavement was a positive thing, and the obviously lighter heart with which he has written these songs is on display throughout. A well-written, enjoyable listen that keeps you humming along for, well, years, as it turns out. Want to start with a song or two to try it out? Discretion Grove, or Jo-Jo's Jacket. Enjoy.

Biography

Born: May 30, 1966 in Santa Monica, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

After Pavement announced they were going on hiatus at the end of 1999, the status of one of America's finest indie rock bands was a mystery for the first half of 2000. It became clearer that summer, however, when it was revealed that both singer/songwriter/guitarists Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg were preparing solo albums. Malkmus was particularly busy during that time, performing new songs with Kim's Bedroom — a one-off group that also included Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Jim O'Rourke...
Full Bio