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Stephen Malkmus: Shape-Shifting Indie Rock

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Stephen Malkmus: Shape-Shifting Indie Rock

Stephen Malkmus: Shape-Shifting Indie Rock

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And we end this hour with the latest sounds from one of indie rock's founding fathers. Stephen Malkmus is best known as the leader of Pavement, a band that helped launch the indie rock movement in the early '90s. Since Pavement broke up, Malkmus has pursued a solo career. His 4th album is called "Real Emotional Trash."

Our critic, Will Hermes, has this review.

WILL HERMES: My favorite scene in the polymorphous Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" is when Cate Blanchett lip-syncs to a scathing version of "Ballad of a Thin Man." Except it's not Dylan's voice on the soundtrack, it's a remake sung by Stephen Malkmus, with requisite venom and a small self-conscious wink.

(Soundbite of song "Ballad of a Thin Man")

Mr. STEPHEN MALKMUS (Vocalist, The Jicks): (Singing) Now, you see this one-eyed midget, shouting the word now. And you say, for what reason? And he says, how? And you say, good God what's happening? And he screams back, you're a cow. And give me some milk or else go home.

HERMES: I think Stephen Malkmus had Dylan in mind when he made his fourth solo record, "Real Emotional Trash," not because it sounds much like Dylan, although there is this one track.

(Soundbite of song "We Can't Help You")

Mr. MALKMUS: (Singing) Well I wish for once, you would just stop coping. Every night and day, tell me what to say. You were over ripe. You would never open. You were just a stripe on the gay crusade. We can't help you…

HERMES: Well, it sounded like Dylan for a minute there. Anyway, Stephen Malkmus' solo career has been, at least in part, about trying to escape the long shadow of Pavement, the group he fronted in the '90s and which — to continue the classic rock analogies — remains the Led Zeppelin of indie rock.

And maybe more than anything he's done, this new recording finds Malkmus engaged in the sort of shape-shifting Bob Dylan made a career of. Malkmus wears a different mask on virtually every song. There's Stephen Malkmus the snarky pop scientist.

(Soundbite of song "Gardenia")

Mr. MALKMUS: (Singing) So you've got your curb appeal. But can you cook a three-course meal? Or are you just a present waiting to be opened up and parceled out again. Hey.

HERMES: There's Stephen Malkmus the almighty stoner-rock guitar god.

(Soundbite of song "Dragonfly Pie")

HERMES: You even get Stephen Malkmus the folk-rock mystic on a 10-minute title track that's shaped like a multi-song Grateful Dead guitar epic.

(Soundbite of song "Real Emotional Trash")

Mr. MALKMUS: (Singing) Easy said but less often done. Point me in the direction of your real emotional trash.

HERMES: It helps that the current version of his band, The Jicks, is his strongest post-Pavement outfit yet, a half-male, half-female crew that includes new member Janet Weiss, formerly of the great Sleater-Kinney and one of the most thrilling drummers in rock, especially live.

The music sounds less tossed off than in the past, or at least tossed off in a more studious way, since making music sound tossed off is something of Stephen Malkmus' stock in trade. Maybe he's trying to impress his new band mates. Or maybe, like Dylan and plenty of other dudes, he's just trying to escape the trap of being the same guy he was 10 years ago.

BLOCK: The latest album from Stephen Malkmus is called "Real Emotional Trash." Our reviewer is Will Hermes.

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