Stephen Malkmus gets Jick-y with it on their latest release, Real Emotional Trash. The singer/songwriter has long been held in high esteem in the indie world thanks to his work in the nineties’ legendary alternative band, Pavement, but he has been carving out a new legacy for years now with his new band, The Jicks. On the fourth post-Pavement record, Malkmus & co. are more experimental, if a bit less accessible, with Malkmus’ guitar taking over from his voice at center stage. There might be a little too much of the ‘jam band’ on Real Emotional Trash, but the group is skilled enough to pull it off.
The indie-jam nature of Trash comes out right from the get-go with “Dragonfly Pie” and its grinding guitars. The following “Hopscotch Willie” takes it up a notch with its middle-of-the-song guitar jam, but its stream-of-consciousness meander definitely has hallmarks of Pavement. Charm City might not have HBO’s The Wire for much longer, but it now has the more confident guitar wail of “Baltimore”. “Elmo Delmo” borrows from a different side of the sixties, in the pre-guitar-rock twinkling psychedelica. It’s all summed up by the record’s title track, a ten-minute-plus wandering epic – involved, overdone, and inspired.
This isn’t to say Malkmus has gone all granola on Trash. There’s another, more varied half of the record, which still definitely looks to his alternative roots. “Cold Son” has an indie-different-smooth effect with its relaxed chorus, slacker-ish without being lazy. A similar laid-back nature infects the piano-cool “We Can’t Help You”. “Gardenia” is catchy, upbeat, winning, and really enjoyable – poppy? Yes, but this is S.M. we’re talking about here – poppy done right. Meanwhile, the expansive arena is also played in, with finisher “Wicked Wanda”, a fuzzy groove that carries the listener into the atmosphere. But even finer is the easy-to-overlook “Out Of Reaches”, mixing in a subdued tone for a sweet heart and effective presence.
Some indie-rock loyalists, weaned on Slanted & Enchanted, might be taken aback at the reciprocal interest the jam band fanbase and Stephen Malkmus currently have in each other, but they really shouldn’t be. Unlike their recently-discovered affinity for Sonic Youth, the community’s affinity for Malkmus is not as surprising: Trey Anastasio of jam-icons Phish long held up Pavement’s work, and The Jicks played such jam-y festivals as Langerado last year (QRO recap) and Bonnaroo in 2006 (the year before Radiohead played). What’s more, Malkmus has anything but ‘abandoned’ his long-time fans and crossed the metaphorical ‘line’ that hipsters see between themselves as the neo-hippies. Real Emotional Trash fits right in with the more experimental side of Pavement, like Wowee Zowee (QRO re-release review). It shows The Jicks (now with former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss) growing more, and finding their own.