Malkmus Gets 'Real Emotional' Critic Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times talks about Tuesday's new releases, including CDs from Kathleen Edwards, The Gutter Twins, and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, and also addresses the controversy surrounding a recent review of the Black Crowes.
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Malkmus Gets 'Real Emotional'

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Malkmus Gets 'Real Emotional'


Music Reviews

Malkmus Gets 'Real Emotional'

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Another week, another batch of new releases to review. Let's see, what do we have this week? Something from two grunge-era survivors, together at last, an indy icon turned jam band leader, and a Canadian country singer who drops references to obscure hockey players in her songs, as well as a little rock critic scandal.

On the line to help us understand what the heck that means is Los Angeles Times pop critic, Ann Powers. Hi, Ann.

Ms. ANN POWERS (Pop Critic, Los Angeles Times): How you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing great. So we're going to start up with Kathleen Edwards, "Asking for Flowers." It's her third album. Is it really representative of her career so far?

Ms. POWERS: I think she's really grown over the years. I mean, she's always had - Kathleen is Canadian and she's sort of in-between, you know, folk and country, I guess, or whatever. She's in that Patty Griffin territory sort of. Sophisticated country-folk, I don't know.

But when she started she - she was always a great songwriter, and she always had a knack for the conversational. I think what she's gained over the years, over the past about six years, I think, is a better sense of musicality and how to structure her songs, as well. So this is really maybe her strongest record ever.

STEWART: Let's listen to the title track. It's called "Asking for Flowers."

(Soundbite of song "Asking for Flowers")

Ms. KATHLEEN EDWARDS (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) My life is a like a picture, left out too long in the sun. Well, I'm trying to remember all the faces and the names I've lost. And all that's left of me now is a cigarette burning bright, fading in the (unintelligible) of all the things I tried to get right. Every pill I took in pain, every...

STEWART: Oh, I can hear the Lucinda Williams comparisons. They're going to come rolling in.

Ms. POWERS: Oh, it's there for sure. It's definitely there.

STEWART: Are they deserved? Does the whole record sound like this?

Ms. POWERS: You know, it's a cool mix. Because there are these sort of poignant songs like this one in which she really takes on the persona of - often of a woman who isn't quite in the best relationship or is trying to cope with a difficult man, basically. But then she also has these totally, you know, kicking, get out of here difficult man songs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: There's one called "The Cheapest Key" that seems like a slap at maybe an old musician boyfriend. So she can do both now, and I think that's a big gain, you know, that she really... She's always had a sense of humor. As you said, she makes hockey jokes a lot. But the humor feels really natural now, and I think that's what makes - for me, that's what makes this record really notable.

STEWART: This record was co-produced by Edwards and Jim Scott, who's pretty well-known for his work as a producer and a mixer and an engineer. He's worked with the Bare Naked Ladies, Counting Crows, Johnny Cash. Do you think he enhances her performance?

Ms. POWERS: I think there's a clarity to the recording and a sort of warmth To the recording that's really great. I'm glad you mentioned those other people Scott has worked with because we always have to remember with these Canucks that they're much bigger stars in their native country than they are even ten miles across the border. So I think Kathleen may seem like a newcomer to some listeners down here in the U.S. But she's a pretty big deal up there North.

So she feels like a mature artist, she is a mature artist, and it's great to see her coming into her own.

STEWART: All right. The next band we're going to talk about, The Gutter Twins, has a little bit of history.

Ms. POWERS: Oh, yeah.

STEWART: They're Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, respectively of Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees, two bands in the 90s known for being just a little bit dangerous, engaging in various degrees of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. What do we need to know about these guys, before we hear a little bit of the record?

Ms. POWERS: Well, one thing to know is that in alternative rock it's always hard to be a man's man. It always has been. And in the 90s, which was in the era of when there were a lot of amazing women in rock, as well, I think it was particularly hard to play that role. Lanegan and Dulli both did it in different ways. Dulli was known as like a sex symbol, kind of. He always wrote about really messed-up relationships.

STEWART: A kind of louse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: That would be the word. He doesn't have a photograph taken of him without a cigarette in his mouth for the past 15 years, I think. And Lanegan was sort of a darker soul, friend of Kurt Cobain, very deep-voiced, sort of almost like a bluesman, but a skinny white indy rock bluesman.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Ms. POWERS: So for them to come together is sort of this meeting of the indy-rock macho-dude titans or something, but they're older now so there's also a bit of a relaxed feeling about this connection that they've made.

STEWART: I was really excited. I like both those bands, like both these singers, very much. I'm really curious what this is gonna sound like. Here's "Idle Hands" from The Gutter Twins. The name of the album is "Saturnalia."

(Soundbite of song "Idle Hands")

THE GUTTER TWINS (Alternative Rock Duo): (Singing) My idle hands, there's nothing I can do but be the devil's plaything, baby, and know that I'm being used.

Her lips are cold. They suffer me. They drag me under, baby, into your suffering.

STEWART: That's a lot of testosterone in one little song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: That's Mark Lanegan on the lead vocals there. Dulli's never been quite the stunning vocal presence. He's more about his mind, in a way. Like, he's a very smart guy, and he's made really interesting mood music over the years.

But together they find - well, it's undeniable, it's like that testosterone thing, like you're saying. I mean, in a way you could kind of chuckle at it, that they're still doing this into their 40s or whatever, you know. It's a bit Dennis Hopperish, I have to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: But it sounds great. And what's cool about the record is that it represents what both of them have been doing in their solo work. So they bring their strengths. So the Lanegan songs like that one are sort of bluesy, rootsy, gothic. And then the dually-dominated songs have this moody electronic quality to them, he's been dabbling in electronic music recently, so it really is both of them at their top form. So that's what makes it really great. And I haven't seen them yet, but I'm excited to see them 'cause I'm sure it will be the showdown of the cigarette butts thrown by the side of the stage, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: All right. Our next track we're going to listen to, I don't know if this is good news or bad news for fans of the band Pavement. Stephen Malkmus has a new group now. He's known as Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. It's called "Real Emotional Trash." What kind of evolution has he gone through?

Ms. POWERS: Well, you know, Malkmus left - I mean, Pavement has been dormant or nonexistent for a while. Malkmus moved to Portland when he married his wife, and they have two kids now. It's hard to believe that the callow youth who was called the Grace Kelly of indy rock by Courtney Love is now a dad who's seen out in Portland wearing a baby in his sling, but it's true. And he also has relaxed. I guess that's what happens when you get old, huh? And this band, which also includes the great Janet Weiss, from Sleater-Kinney, on drums.


Ms. POWERS: And some other really notable Portland musicians. It's being called a jam band, basically, very loose, very kind of prog and hippy, folky, rocky-influenced.

STEWART: I need to hear that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: This is called "Real Emotional Trash."

(Soundbite of song "Real Emotional Trash")

STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS (Alternative Rock Band): (Singing) Daddy's on the run. And who will ever (unintelligible). Easy said but less said than done. Point me in the direction of your real emotional trash.

STEWART: So Ann, this goes on for another seven-and-a-half minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Is it worth it?

Ms. POWERS: You know, it's worth it if you can kind of lay back and drink your smoothie, you know, or do the chemical equivalent of drinking some wheat grass, if you get my drift, and really sink into it. I mean, it's not a record that everybody is going to love. It's definitely a challenge to people who are looking for short snappy songs. But the band is really together. It's very supple. And as long as you tolerate Malkmus' sort of John Ashbery-influenced stream of consciousness lyrics, then you're gonna love it.

STEWART: We're speaking with Ann Powers. She's the LA Times pop critic. And before we let you go, we have to get you to weigh-in on the music controversy of the week. It's all about the Black Crowes' new album, "War Paint." Or maybe it's not about their new album, because the record label didn't send copies to critics.

Ms. POWERS: Right.

STEWART: And this decision has precipitated a fight between the band's management and Maxim magazine, because Maxim published a review of the album, and not necessarily a kind one, in its last issue. But apparently they never really heard the whole record.

Ms. POWERS: Yeah, that wasn't the most shining moment for anyone involved, honestly. I mean, certainly Maxim, Maxim's editors, behaved unethically in this situation. And we've covered it a lot at our soundboard blog on the site.

What we discovered was that the writer, who's name I think is David Peisner, didn't know he was writing a review. He thought he was writing like a little capsule preview, and then it was made into a review, at least that's what he is maintaining at this point. The problem...

STEWART: Because he's wanting to work again, probably.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: Yeah, no kidding. But, you know, hey, I hate to say it, but unethical things - actions on the part of arts journalists hasn't hurt that many over the years. We've seen a lot of them doing things like this out there, unfortunately.

But what it really points out to me is the rock and a hard place that we're in as journalists and also that publicists are in. Because with the (unintelligible) being so leaky, and yet with artists seeking to stop illegal downloading and also stop kind of buzz that they can't control, publicists are being asked to hold back and hold back more, while journalists are being tasked with making judgments early, early on. We're all in this bind, you know? Every single one of us. There isn't one of us who hasn't had to review a record on one listen, you know, or had to review the record sitting in a listening party with maybe even the artist right in front of you. And that's not the context in which to make critical judgments. And yet we all have agreed on this ridiculous horse race in which we all have to review it first. And we have to beat everybody else, and we all have to stick by the sell-by date, and all this. It's just silly.

So I think what's eventually going to happen is that arts journalism is gonna become a lot more fluid and music reviewing will become fluid. We won't all be talking about the same record during the same week. And I think that's a good thing 'cause it'll give whatever we're calling albums anymore...

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Ms. POWERS: ...a longer lifespan. And it will free us up from this silly business of beating each other to the punch.

STEWART: Ann Powers is the music critic for the LA Times, the pop music critic. Thank you so much for being so honest about that, Ann. And we're not going to ask you to review the Black Crowes release.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: But you know what? We'll just play the single on our way out so our listeners can decide for themselves. This is "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" from the Black Crowes forthcoming album, which we haven't heard...

Ms. POWERS: I know. Neither have I, but I liked them in the past. So I'm giving them a vote of maybe.

STEWART: All right. This is from "War Paint." Thanks, Ann.

Ms. POWERS: Thanks.

(Soundbite of "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution")

BLACK CROWES (Hard Rock Band): (Singing) I've been from Antioch to Alcatraz, I can roll you one from an empty bag. But let's take it easy to avoid any snags.

Goodbye daughters of the revolution. Open your eyes and see your solution. Hallelujah, come join the jubilee. Keep on running through the gates of the city. To give up now would be such a pity...

STEWART: So what do you think?


I like that last one a lot.

STEWART: You do? You like the Black Crowes...

MARTIN: Yeah, I like the Black Crowes.

STEWART: For the record, though, Maxim's editorial director told the AP that the magazine had erred presenting this unreleased album by the Black Crowes as reviewed and judging them with stars. They made a mistake. You know?

MARTIN: You've just got to take deep breath, people. Sit back, relax. The world isn't going to end if you don't review it first.

STEWART: See, there you go.

MARTIN: (unintelligible) Like I know what I'm talking about.

STEWART: The Zen of Martin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: And with that, we end THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT on an ohm note.

MARTIN: As we should everyday.

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