Is there anyone more impervious to criticism than Stephen Malkmus? At 41, the ex-Pavement frontman is so inculcated as an indie-scene godhead that neither fanboys’ nor journalists’ heated hairsplitting has put even a hitch in his giddyap. Maybe that’s why he seems to enjoy himself so thoroughly on Real Emotional Trash, a sprawling continuation of his Smart Guy Rock shtick. Indeed, the hallmarks are all here: wonky guitar rambles, gloriously nonsensical McSweeney’s-meets-fridge-magnet-poetry lyrics, and the drowned-in-sound evocations of Sonic Youth (”Dragonfly Pie”), the Grateful Dead (”Elmo Delmo”), and, of course, Pavement (”Gardenia”).
There’s an exciting new addition: Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, drummer par excellence. She and the rest of the Jicks imbue Trash’s loosey-goosey vibe with an underlying discipline, from the road-dog adventure of the title track to the pretty, minor melancholy of ”Baltimore.” If there’s anything lacking, it is, perhaps, Malkmus’ own Real Emotional Trash. Even as he skewers fakery with surprising directness on the latter song (”For all your hustle, what did you win?/Woe is the man with the Cheshire cat grin”), the husband and father remains largely at a feline remove himself. That musical Teflon renders him as cucumber-cool as ever; too bad it also means our hero stays a cipher. B+
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