Album Review: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash


If this isn’t the album to make Stephen Malkmus, then I don’t know what will be. Not only are there sounds abound for Pavement-enthusiasts, but those who stray towards the Wilco-fare should eat this up too. That’s in no way a criticism of the former Pavement frontman, but a strong association that is only meant to draw in new fans (and let’s admit it, readers too). It’s just that the two bands seem to strive for that honest to do-good’er rock n’ roll that even your fifty something father could relate to, which means it’s a universally sound project.

Stephen Malkmus is something else though. Unlike Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Malkmus is the band. This brings up the age old argument of artists that make or break bands. Of those that come to mind, there’s Jim Morrison of The Doors, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, or even the irreplaceable Freddie Mercury of Queen (wait a tick…?). These are certain members that without them, the band ceases to exist. Anything otherwise is either an homage or a hammy attempt at something lost. I’d go so far as to say that Malkmus is Pavement. Both 2003’s Pig Lib and on here with Real Emotional Trash rings this much true.

After all, nothing has really changed. He’s still mumbling in that free form, lyrical jazz he seems to mandate himself, he’s still channeling over the familiar rusty guitar work of Wowee Zowee, and he still knows how to unlock that special, special place in every indie music lover’s heart. So what the hell does all this mean? Stop waiting for a Pavement reunion and enjoy the hell out of the Jicks.

There’s so much to look forward to here. From the moment “Dragonfly Pie” starts it’s somber, moody slush, the distortion ceases to tire and Malkmus never misses a chance to rant. It’s constant noise, even when Malkmus is busy chanting, “Shake me off the knife/ Because I want go home”, the very Hendrix-sounding guitar work drivels ad infinitum like nails on a chalkboard, only here it’s numbingly good. So good that you’re not caught up by the time the paraphernalia of “Hopscotch Willie” parades on by, it’s acoustics marching toward a siren wailing solo that chimes in a little less than halfway into the seven minute song. Lyrically, it’s senseless, harmless fun, where lines such as “Do a little hopscotch/ Willie, hopscotch” bring out the innocence in all of us.

It’s after “Willie” where the tender, juicy core of the album reveals itself. One of the shorter of the album’s ten tracks, “Cold Son”, is an emotional, heart clincher. Just above a whisper, Malkmus soothes out the chorus, “Co-o-o-l-d son/I am”, and when bassist Joanna Bolme joins him, you’re dropping whatever you’re doing. Maybe that’s good given the following track is the ten minute opus, “Real Emotional Trash.”

Made up of maybe three or four parts, the song meanders surely, but in it’s jam-like progression, there’s something hidden that Malkmus is trying to tell us. What it is, I’m not sure, but when he asks us, “point me in the direction of your real emotional trash,” a part of me has an idea where to turn my head. Sleater-Kinney’s former drummer Janet Weiss really cuts in here, harboring those quaint, bluesy fills that were once a signature of The Doors’ John Densmore. In the end though, “Trash” is a long song and one that’s sure to extend itself when the band’s on stage, where maybe then it’ll be the epic masterpiece that Malkmus intended it to be.

One of the reasons people listen to Malkmus’ work, I think, is because of songs like “Out of Reaches.” This soulful ballad seems ripped off the Wowee Zowee sessions (think “Father to a Sister of Thought”), only more mature sounding. Again, the chorus just strikes the right chord. Between an early a.m. piano sound and that distant cry of the guitar (look no further for a better, more fitting solo on this record), “Reaches” really lets the sappy taste strong and potent. “Baltimore”, on the other hand,  is a different vibe itself from the usual Malkmus fare, but that’s okay if only it were maybe two minutes shorter. There’s a cheeky groove and that’s just about it.

Some 60’s flares (is this sound back or what?) shines on “Gardenia”, but the rest of the album fades out. “Elmo Delmo” is a smart track, very bluesy in it’s sound, but a bit too introspective for it’s suit. Did I mention this one breaks the six minute barrier, too? “Wicked Wanda” splashes on some more of that 60’s psychedelia and is an appropriate closer and one that dims toward it’s end.

Altogether, Real Emotional Trash is a scattered, guitar driven rock album. It’s apparent Malkmus wants to jam these days, preferring instrumentation to those viscid, mollifying lyrics he’s infamous for writing. Though it’s interesting to see him get all introspective with the guitar, rather than the paragraphs of lyrics he’s prone to writing. That being said, there’s probably a handful of fans not ready for that change. Fortunately, we’re prone to adapt.