Monday, April 14, 2008

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

I remember getting to hear Pig Lib a month or so before it was technically released because of a kid in my dorm room who burnt a leaked copy. I remember driving all around Hilton Head Island highly frustrated in search of Face the Truth, finally locating it at dusk, hidden in amongst all the regular S's in a Barnes and Noble music section, settling down with the original Condoleezza, playing it on my house-wide audio system, thinking life could barely be any better. Now comes Real Emotional Trash, which I snatched greedily from a shelf display at Amoeba Music a couple days after it came out, which I burnt to my i-Tunes before hearing, which I decided was probably (and I say this every time), the best thing Malkmus has done since Terror Twilight.

"Dragonfly Pie" may contain Malkmus's single best opening line over the previous eighteen years he's been in music. That is saying something. It is probably as daring a lyrical gamble as the closing lines to "Fillmore Jive." ----DP: 'Of all my stoned digressions/some have mutated into the truth/not a spoof' or FJ: 'When they pull out their plugs and snort up their drugs/their throats are filled with."

The copious amount of drug references is not the most remarkable element of this album, however. It is the "stoner" jamming. At least half of the ten songs dissolve into extended instrumental breaks, showing off Malkmus's always advancing guitar theatrics and (awesome) newest Jick member Janet Weiss's thunderous drumming. The second track, "Hopscotch Willie," introduces the new lineup authoritatively. It is perhaps worth noting that Real Emotional Trash earned Malkmus's lowest rating on Pitchfork yet. I seem to recall them saying about "Hopscotch Willie,"--"by the time you get to the six minute mark, you, um, know you're at the six minute mark." This sort of impatience and stupidity is the reason why I often hate Pitchfork for never believing I was good enough to write reviews (or even news items!) for them. They are fools to say that "Hopscotch Willie" is weak, because it is totally awesome! Lyrically, instrumentally, structurally, melodically, story-wise and humor-wise, the song is one of Malkmus's greatest achievments. How can you hate the part where he starts letting it all out that "Willie was found not far from the scene/he was panting like a pit bull, minus the mean/" and then repeating it with increasing fervor until a squealing guitar washes out his vocals. It shows off how heavy the new Jicks plan to play.

"Cold Son" is a reversion to previous Jicks records. It could have easily fit alongside anything on Pig Lib or especially Face the Truth. Another drug reference ensues when Malkmus exhorts the listener, "Don't stay high/Hi-i-i-i-i-i/Hi-i-i-i-i-i-/on abuse." It also opens up with more classic couplets, "At the center where they go on weekdays/It takes hours just to slake that thirst," and then something about something being a bad idea for your blistered toes, which always makes me feel it's okay if I don't go running that night.

Previously I would agree with elements of Pitchfork's review, that some of the jammy elements of this album bog it down, and that is no more clear than on the title-track, which stretches past the ten-minute-mark. I thought this track was a bit of a show-off, but repeated listens have proved this to be the undisputed centerpiece and most signficant element to the album. The song is a triumph and probably one of the most successful long-form jams Malkmus has put on almost all his albums (1% of One, No More Shoes)

"Out of Reaches" returns to "Cold Son" territory in that it could sit very comfortably on Face the Truth, but it is also a very pretty song. "Baltimore" has been mentioned as the strongest single off the album, and that may be the case. The middle part, where Malkmus breaks into his most impassioned diss, "You criticize life/you criticize pain/you criticize situations you've never been in" and then something about dilletantes, is one of the more badass phrases since something like, oh, "Architecture students are like virgins with an itch they cannot scratch/never build a building til your fifty what kind of life is that?" "Gardenia" I always forget what it sounds like (happy!), but it does offer the unforgettable lines "Because I am not a present waiting to be opened up and parceled out again" and "Richard Avedon/Richard Avedon would surely approve." "Elmo Delmo" is another long song that is very cool. "We Can't Help You" is probably one of the weaker songs on the album but is still palette-cleansing in a way. "Wicked Wanda" is a strong closing track that I never pay enough attention to.

Regardless, situated in a context, Real Emotional Trash is (again) Malkmus's best album since Pavement. Do not hesitate to buy it. It is one of the best albums of 2008. Few things will lay greater claims to genius this year.

No comments: