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Stephen Malkmus: Stephen Malkmus


Stephen Malkmus

Album: Stephen Malkmus
Label: Matador

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In every interview since Pavement's breakup, Stephen Malkmus has attempted to lower the expectations of anyone anticipating radical departures on his first solo album by insisting that it will sound a lot like Pavement. Sure enough, the self-titled record does just that, which raises an interesting question: What does "sound a lot like Pavement" mean? There's no mistaking Pavement's sound for any other, but with any band that could evoke The Velvet Underground or The Zombies on one track, then interpolate an out-of-nowhere quote from Dave Brubeck on the next, unpredictability is part of the package. Maybe sounding like Pavement means juggling pop craft and experimental instincts, alternating between the rock tradition and the garage-born avant-garde, and ultimately choosing a near-continual pushing forward without doubling back to past successes. If that's the case, who could ask more of him than that he continue to sound like Pavement? In a recent magazine poll, Malkmus said he's spent much of the last year listening to the mid-period albums of Thin Lizzy. If Stephen Malkmus doesn't bear the direct stamp of Irish rock's best-known '70s export, it certainly shares an eagerness to dispense indelible melodies, though that attitude is filtered through Malkmus' singular sensibility. At once as accessible and eccentric as any album from Pavement's catalog, the disc features songs paying tribute to Yul Brynner ("Jo-Jo's Jacket"), recounting life as a Turkish pirate ("The Hook"), and describing an ill-starred hipster romance ("Jennifer And The Ess-Dog"). Each track is set to a rhythm section that can only be described as "chugging," and while Malkmus has carried the flag of rock tradition in even his most Byzantine moments, these songs may be the first to prompt listeners to shake their heads. It may be mere coincidence or an oblique reference to the difficulties of leaving an influential band, but Malkmus' voice assumes a Lou Reed-esque inflection at odd intervals throughout the album. But while it took Reed a couple of years and several albums to establish his solo voice, Malkmus' first attempt effortlessly stares down his past.