Malkmus Gets Comfortable on 'Cold Son'

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Monday's Pick

  • Song: "Cold Son"
  • Artist: Stephen Malkmus
  • CD: Real Emotional Trash
  • Genre: Indie-Rock
Stephen Malkmus 300

A loose, communicative backing band allows Stephen Malkmus' songs more room than ever to take unexpected turns. David Torch hide caption

toggle caption David Torch

As the leader of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus helped influence generations of independent musicians with off-kilter rock songs that brim over with feedback bursts and white noise. Even at Malkmus' noisiest and most primitive, his sardonic lyrical sense was concise, elusive, and delivered in a lazy and cool, almost unimpressed plain-speak.

Malkmus has been solo almost as long as he was in Pavement, but those sensibilities remain intact on Real Emotional Trash. Still, the heavier influence of his backing band The Jicks is the biggest story here. Like any band comfortable in its surroundings, The Jicks' members — former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, bassist Joanna Bolme, and keyboardist Mike Clark — sound like they're just having fun playing. That loose, communicative approach allows Malkmus' songs more room than ever to take unexpected turns.

Propelled by in-unison rock riffs and Weiss' thundering drums, the upbeat and surprisingly poppy song "Cold Son" toys with dynamics to a surprising degree. Amid Malkmus' characteristically thoughtful words — "Sometimes it feels like the world is stuffed with feathers / Table-bottom gum just holding it together" — his angular, aggressive melodies help build tension before the cathartic release of a singable refrain. As the song collapses into chaotic noise, it's clear how radically The Jicks' improvisations have invigorated Malkmus' already formidable songwriting.

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This story originally ran on March 10, 2008.

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