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Stephen Malkmus - Real Emotional Trash

Released on Matador Records, 1/29/08

The new Stephen Malkmus record is like a wartime picnic: gorgeous and delicious with all sorts of drama looming behind the serenity. Such is the Malkmus style. The Portland, Oregon songwriter always operates on a steady diet of contradictions. His imagery is plentiful but obscure, his guitar playing simple but dissonant, and his songs are called "indie", which couldn't be further from the truth -- especially with Real Emotional Trash, Malkmus' first album in a couple years.

The record makes little audible reference to the 90s, which, to some, was Malkmus' decade. Instead, there's Bowie-isms, Genesis-ology, Doors-iness, and, believe it or not, Zepplin-otics. Throw ex-Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss a box of Kudos for helping Malkmus live up to his own new songs. Weiss was always a thunderstorm and Real Emotional Trash harnesses the full power of her weather pattern.

The Matador artist bio uses the word "jams" in describing the music, which seems rather mean, given the polarity of Pavement and Dave Matthews on the spectrum of credibility, which a lot of Malkmus fans probably still cling to. Yes, there are guitar solos and, sure, most of the songs are really long. But this band is not jamming. They are forging rock odysseys. Hippies and hipsters alike will kneel in the long shadows of these riffs.

"Baltimore" is a prime example. The song hits the three minute mark deep into a solo that sounds like Skynard's best work, which turns into a Tony Iommi fuzz-fest, until that dissolves into the best riff Boston never thought of. Some music makes the world a better place, and some music makes the world seem like Madison Square Garden in 1978.

The sharpest point is "Gardenia", the song that's been missing from every Ted Leo album since Hearts Of Oak. "Gardenia" finds Malkmus digging a Thin Lizzy groove, letting keyboardist Mike Clark smooth out the stabbing guitar. Malkmus' lyrics have always been too fun to falter, but with the Huey Lewis precision of "Gardenia," they really shine: "I kinda like the way you dot your 'J's/ the giant circles of na´vetÚ/ the kind of circles that include everything."

Real Emotional Trash is just like those big circles: it's all there.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars