Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

Will Metcalfe 29/02/2008

Rating: 4.5/5

After his contributions to the recent I'm Not There OST things looked good for Real Emotional Trash, not only did Malkmus offer the definitive Dylan covers on that record he made you believe he was Dylan. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm as loathe to make that comparison as the next aspiring critic but if you've seen the film or heard the soundtrack you will know what I'm talking about.

Real Emotional Trash is something of a watermark for Stephen Malkmus, not only has he produced he best work since parting ways with Pavement he has also managed to create a record which captures him at his most natural. We know Steve likes to jam, right? Well, where he once tried to write records consisting of half decent pop songs with a couple of lo-fi rock-outs, here he has managed to experiment in a sense as far from pejorative as possible. The likes of 'Real Emotional Trash' maintain the pop edge of Malkmus' more immediate style, whilst being able to envelope the listener in a loose, warm sound.

One of the clinchers on this record is, without doubt, the production; which manages to maintain the energy fans have came to expect from any Malkmus release whist making it sufficiently polished. The result is a much more brash sound than previous solo outings; the dynamics here seem in keeping with 'Terror Twilight', edge with energy, subtleties with depth. Perhaps the best example of this is 'Dragonfly Pie', lumbering chords with a squealing guitar circling over head before Malkmus' heavenly drawl kicks in. The almost, trance like rhythm makes it seem, at first, slightly awkward yet strangely compelling; from this point in Real Emotional Tracks deals few foul blows. The likes of 'We Can't Help You' showcases Stephen Malkmus as a Dylan for a new era, ironically by ripping off one of his chord progressions-and 'Cold Son' has a chorus that comes as something of a surprise. A jilted guitar blossoms into a rich lead part before kicking back into one of the most soothing pieces Malkmus, and the Jicks have ever created.

Tracks like 'Baltimore' are powered by the driving percussion of ex-Sleater Kinney sticks woman Janet Weiss, and again showcase the sheer force of Malkmus' most recent writing. The line between alt. pop experimentalism and outright self indulgence is a fine one, and one that Malkmus has often over trod before; yet here the balance is perfect, even the like of 'Real Emotional Trash' clocking in at just over ten minutes long feel like a semi conscious expression rather than little more than extrapolated self indulgence.

'Real Emotional Trash' is a record that runs very close to being Stephen Malkmus' finest (solo, obviously). From the opening groan of 'Dragonfly Pie' to the dying fuzz of the rather wonderful 'Wicked Wanda' the record exudes a much stronger sense of song writing than on any other of his post 2000 output. The contrasting dynamics of the record reiterate Stephen Malkmus as the godfather of alt. indie. Whilst this may not be Pavement, when Steve's writing records like this a post Pavement world doesn't seem so bad after all.