1. “Lies and betrayals” / “Fruit-covered nails”—Pavement, “Trigger Cut”
“Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement / And I will kill your parents and roast them on a spit,” Stephen Malkmus sings in the Pavement song “Porpoise And The Hand Grenade”; “I don’t mind / If it don’t rhyme,” he adds on “Soiled Little Filly.” Clearly Malkmus is obsessed with rhymes. True to form throughout his tenure in Pavement as well as his current group Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, indie-rock’s cryptic master of wordplay often whips up off-kilter rhymes full of oddness, oxymoron, and paradox. Case in point: “Trigger Cut,” a song from Pavement’s epochal 1992 debut album, Slanted And Enchanted. “Lies and betrayals” / “Fruit-covered nails” goes Malkmus’ opening lines, an imagistic mash-up that obscures far more than it clears up.
2. “A docent’s lisp” / “A damsel’s spit”—Pavement, “Perfume-V”
After setting the stage for the rest of Slanted And Enchanted—as well as the rest of his career—with “Trigger Cut,” Malkmus reinforces his nascent knack for rhymes-for-rhyming’s-sake. On the Slanted track “Perfume-V,” he pairs the phrase “a docent’s lisp” with “a damsel’s spit.” What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Does it have to?
3. “Candelabra” / “Barbara” / “Larva” —Pavement, “Rattled By The Rush”
By the time Pavement’s third album, Wowee Zowee, came out in 1995, the band had traded in its brief brush with mainstream exposure—1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain—for a slow-burning, bubbling-under-the-surface cult status. It also let Malkmus loosen up, to the point where he turned one of Wowee Zowee’s most cryptic songs, “Rattled By The Rush,” into a free-riffing continuum of near-rhymes like “Candelabra” / “Barbara” / “Larva” that rivals most of the MCs of that era—at least a couple of them.
4. “Quasar in the mist” / “Kaiser has a cyst” —Pavement, “Stereo”
1997’s Brighten The Corners marks the high point of Malkmus as a veritable font of imaginatively bizarre rhymes. The album’s most successful single, the slyly anthemic “Stereo,” might seem to be the most on-the-nose song Malkmus ever wrote. That is, until the subversion kicks in—in the form of “Focus on the quasar in the mist” / The Kaiser has a cyst,” an ostensibly free-associative burst of verbiage that nonetheless rings with, well, something.
5. “Dashikis” / “Leftist weeklies” —Pavement, “Embassy Row”
Another gem from Brighten The Corners is “Embassy Row”—thanks in part to its dizzyingly vivid fever-dream of surrealist lyrics. By the time Malkmus gets around to rhyming “Dashikis” with “leftist weeklies,” it doesn’t really matter if he’s trying to be confusingly obscure or if he’s just drunk on his own electric Kool-Aid.
6. “Living in a coma”/ “Donna de Varona” —Pavement, “Harness Your Hopes”
“Harness Your Hopes” is a B-side of “Spit On A Stranger,” a single from Brighten The Corners. But just because the song is somewhat buried at the bottom of Pavement’s discography doesn’t mean Malkmus didn’t invest it with his full, poetic quirkiness. “Living in a coma” is inexplicably rhymed with “Donna De Varona”—the latter being the Olympic-swimmer-turned-sportscaster whose younger sister Joanna Kerns played Growing Pains’ Maggie Seaver. Not that such random trivia will help make sense of it all.
7. “Doric arch” / “Pyrrhic march”—Stephen Malkmus, “Trojan Curfew”
Malkmus goes Greek on “Trojan Curfew,” a track from his self-titled solo debut in 2001 (released before he formed The Jicks). At last, his word-salad rhyme style has some focus: “Doric arch” and “Pyrrhic march” might almost make sense together. Mostly, though, it winds up being an excuse for Malkmus to gleefully throw some smart-sounding syllables together.
8. “Wanda” / “Rwanda”—Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, “Wicked Wanda”
No tradition in pop music is more time-honored than rhyming a woman’s name with, well, anything. But really, Malkmus: “Wanda” and “Rwanda”? On “Wicked Wanda,” a cut from The Jicks’ 2008 album Real Emotional Trash, Malkmus commits just such a poetic atrocity, forever scarring all women in the world named Wanda—because surely there are at least a handful left—with “Wicked, wicked Wanda / I’d rather date Rwanda.”
9. “Shanghaied in Oregon” / “Cinnamon and lesbians”—Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, “Cinnamon And Lesbians”
Wig Out At Jagbags, the latest album from The Jicks, shows that Malkmus has no intention of slowing down his output as he gets deeper into middle age—and similarly, he has no intention of letting up on the weird rhymes. “Shanghaied in Oregon / Cinnamon and lesbians” are his opening to the album’s lead single, “Cinnamon And Lesbians”—another slant rhyme that’s as enchanting as ever. Then again, this is from the man who told The A.V. Club in a 2008 interview, “I guess I’ll stray toward the more obtuse or weird image rather than a straight rhyme. If I can’t come up with anything, I’m going to go toward the weirder.”