In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: In celebration of his new solo LP, we pick songs by Stephen Malkmus
Here’s a controversial statement: Almost all the Pavement records are very good, but Stephen Malkmus’ self-titled solo record is great. I might be pushing it a little with that one, but I’m a massive fan of the Pavement frontman’s 2001 solo debut, which lackadaisically took on everything from pirate life to the ancient Greeks. The record is pure, weird Malkmus, and found the singer putting out songs that were more confident than anything he’d done in years. Even now, 13 years later, it’s a record that absolutely rips top to bottom.
While it’s hard for me to pick a favorite track, I think I have to go with one of the singles, “Jenny And The Ess-Dog.” A fairly straightforward tale of a 31-year-old guy and his 18-year-old girlfriend, “Jenny” is, true to Malkmus’ form, full of thoughtful, wordy details, making the song less of a dashed-off sketch and more of a short story packed into three loquacious minutes. The Ess-Dog, “or Sean, if you wish” is “the son of a Coca-Cola middleman,” and he’s fallen for Jenny, who is fresh out of high school and having her first adventurous “adult” fling. They “kiss when they listen / To ‘Brothers In Arms,’” and have a dog together, Trey, who’s “a retriever with a frayed bandana around his neck.” Sean drives “a Volvo with ancient plates,” and when Jenny and he went their separate ways, she “pledged Kappa and started pre-law,” finally spurning her “awful toe rings.” And if you don’t already think you know these two in real life, Malkmus paints such a lush musical portrait that listeners (myself included) come away convinced that the sad lovers have to exist somewhere on this earth—probably in Portland.
Much is always made about Malkmus’ obtuse songwriting—and the way he blends his jangly guitar and voice together with his dense lyricism—but it rarely works as well as it does on “Jenny And The Ess-Dog.” It’s just a great song. Plus, Malkmus looks really, really cool in the accompanying music video, and that definitely counts for something.