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Malkmus Drops Some Truth

By Michael Pettiti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
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Stephen Malkmus is a weird guy. As frontman of Pavement (the college band of the '90s), he was a witty slacker and the unintentional voice of a generation. Now, as a solo musician, he continues to challenge audiences and critics alike, making his own brand of rock that is both alarmingly casual and intentionally unusual.

With his third solo release, Face the Truth, Malkmus has found the perfect balance between his love of the bizarre (this album is akin to Pavement's seminally weird Wowee Zowee) and effortless. Face the Truth is one of the year's quirkiest and most entertaining albums and certainly the best of Malkmus' brief solo career.

"Pencil Rot" kicks things off with a hiccupping keyboard riff that is both funky and laughable. Malkmus and backing band The Jicks (who accompany most of the album) have finally melded into a cohesive unit, and the results are wonderful. As soon as Malkmus begins singing with his trademark twitchy vocal shifts and unhinged gusto, it becomes clear that this album was likely as fun to make as it is to hear. Again Malkmus proves himself the premier songwriter of the offbeat art-school lyrics as his voice rises, cracks and whimpers while singing: "There's a villain in my head and he's giving me shocks/ shock, shock, shocks/ shock, shock, shocks/ Save me from me, save me from me/ His name is Leather McWhip and he needs to be stopped/ Stop, stop, stop/ stop, stop, stop."

Face the Truth

8 out of 10

  • Artist: Stephen Malkmus

As an album, Face the Truth is top-heavy, with highlights coming fast and sudden, from the twisted bajo-rock of "It Kills" to the Romanian waltzing electronics of "I've Hardly Been." The slow-creeping beauty of the piano-and-guitar ballad "Freeze the Saints" is phenomenal as Malkmus accomplishes the difficult task of evoking real emotions through his abstract and strange lyrics: "You said 'done is good'/ but done well is so much fucking better / Share the wealth and cauterize the tears / If you want to know, well you are, yes you are, so much like me / Freeze the saints/ such a subtle read, exquisite pedigree / just let yourself 'be'/ languish here."

Unlike Malkmus' other solo work, which is good but often uneven, Face the Truth is filled with tons of excellent material that takes several listens to truly unfold. The wonderful finger-picking and rising/falling tempo of "Loud Crowd Cloud" initially hide the arena-rock drum fills and synth solo. Likewise, the skillful guitar haze of "No More Shoes" overpowers the song so much that it is easy to miss Malkmus' humorous vocal beat-boxing (including a vocal guitar palm mute) over his actual guitar wah-wahs.

The only disappointments of the album rear their ugly heads as it progresses through the final quarter with much less enthusiasm and daring ambition. The songs, for the most part, seem less fleshed out or somehow more restrained, but either way it's a problem. "Kindling for the Master" is admirable merely as a rare stab at dance music by Malkmus and crew, but ultimately it falls into the category of 'bad experiments.' Likewise, the album closes with the plodding and instantly forgettable "Malediction." The song sounds too strapped down and conventional to comfortably work on a record so daring and, as such, never finds its niche in the overall mix.

Stephen Malkmus remains a weird guy, but with Face the Truth it seems like he's willing to embrace that. Plus, as long as being weird sounds this good, there'll be little room to complain.

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