Rating: 8.3/10Stephen Malkmus’s new album “Real Emotional Trash” might sound a bit jarring for those attached to the brief, infectious songs that marked his tenure with Pavement. However, those who have been following his recent career will find it to be a natural extension of his last few solo records. Both 2003’s “Pig Lib” and 2005’s “Face the Truth” featured 8+ minute songs with a plethora of guitar solos. “Real Emotional Trash” utilizes that formula and essentially makes an entire album out of it. Fortunately, it is a formula that works.
Unlike “Face the Truth,” which Malkmus largely recorded on his own, “Real Emotional Trash” is a full-band affair credited to both Malkmus and his backing band, The Jicks. Former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss joined the band prior to recording, and her outstanding musicianship and backing vocals are welcome additions.
Weiss and the rest of the Jicks strongly complement Malkmus’s criminally underrated guitar skills. The result is the most impressively performed collection of songs of Malkmus’s career.
The average song length on “Real Emotional Trash” is five and a half minutes, making for a potentially intimidating listen. Although the album might at first sound like nothing more than one long guitar solo, repeated listening reveals that the songs have a great deal of nuance and memorable melodies within them. The opening one-two punch of “Dragonfly Pie” and “Hopscotch Willie” provide a whirlwind of distorted guitars and extended instrumental passages. The breakdown toward the end of the latter is particularly memorable, with Malkmus singing practically in slow motion before the song speeds up and concludes in raucous fashion.
“Elmo Delmo,” in addition to having one of the more hilarious song titles in recent memory, effectively incorporates synths to flair up one of the instrumental sections. “Baltimore” stands as the album’s low-point, with the guitar soloing sounding tedious rather than inventive. In contrast, the album’s best moment is the title track-a multi-sectioned, 10-minute long monster of a song that manages to stay consistently interesting before a frenzied crescendo brings it to a close.
“Real Emotional Trash” does not entirely consist of long guitar jams. “Gardenia” sounds like a Terror Twilight outtake, while the under four-minute “Cold Son” features his typically zany lyrics: “I feel like a nympho /trapped in a cloister.” These more pop-oriented songs work surprisingly well next to the guitar epics, and help reaffirm to skeptics that this is the same man who once fronted Pavement.
The album may not be as strong as the material he released with his former band, but for those who can handle a guitar solo or two, it represents a worthy edition to Malkmus’s increasingly legendary catalogue.