Pavement, Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. each laid large tiles contributing to the (under)groundwork of that gloriously lo-fi independent, slacker, noise-guitar rock sound that ruled the ’90s sedimentary layer of popularity. But now in our DSL culture where we already look back on the decade that ended just more than a year ago with nostalgia and pop-culture kitsch (“Remember torn jeans, skateboarding and curling irons?”), do we even care anymore about what our former heroes are doing? Their bands rest 6 feet below the dust they formerly wandered. “We’ve evolved. They just need some extra cash,” former devotees say of this “post-indie” rush of breakup solo albums.
J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) and his new formation The Fog released an album to an eensy-weensy bit of fanfare in the fall of last year. Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh) came and went last summer with a Folk Implosion performance and then a solo Borders in-store. But Sloan was playing at an outdoor festival on the same day. And then there was that other thing happening. Oh, shoot. Missed him.
Will Stephen Malkmus’ new post-Pavement solo album fall through the cracks? For some reason, I can’t see that happening. Malkmus is not your typical geek with a guitar who lost his band and still owes a record to the label — not to say the other two mentioned are. It wasn’t that long ago that we found out about Pavement’s demise. The e-mails are probably still floating around in untidy inboxes. We knew it was coming; the members lived in different parts of the country, they barely practiced, etc. But it was still a shock when we first heard it was for real, not just a “hiatus” thing.
In the Pavement main man’s self-titled release, we hear just what we’d expect plus more. Of course without the full band, it’s a much lighter sound, stretched out and “up.” There’s a feeling of release, of a weight being lifted off the songwriter’s shoulders. He has more “creative freedom” and every other newly single cliché you can think of. While Malkmus does explore and twist and turn in his newly found independence, he doesn’t stray too far from that sincere and influential Pavement quirk-pop songcraft that made him an innovator — minus the thick distorto-feedback of course. His new rhythm section, endearingly called The Jicks (Joanna Bolme, bass; John Moen, drums), offers just enough support to let Malkmus roam free, giggle, play with pedals, harmonize and softly mourn. A shade of sorrow does hang over the lightness like a single sad rain cloud, only it’s sweet and clever, not gut-wrenching like the purging drum-plus-feedback, noise-clogged drain of some of the later Pavement work. If you were a fan of the noise hairball, the clean experimentation might turn you off, but if Malkmus’ laconic voice and lyrical wit were your favorite elements in the mix, this release should tease and tickle your eardrums into a nostalgia frenzy. Remember when they played the “Cut Your Hair” video on “120 Minutes”? That was awesome.
Read about Stephen Malkmus' April 5, 2001 appearance in the St. Andrew's Hall spotlight.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.