It’s funny how somehow today a new Stephen Malkmus album just seems like a bigger deal than it would have when he dropped his first of two “solo” projects, Face the Truth, in 2005. Let’s be honest, too: a lot of credit should go to Pitchfork for championing and propagating the band, allowing them a fierce popularity throughout America and even worldwide that probably goes even a little something beyond “underground.”
Maybe Malkmus sensed this to be the case because he seems adamant here about not disappointing fans of his and of music in general, plotting out an uncomfortable, stoic masterpiece that’s almost always fresh and distinct. “Belziger Faceplant” is the electro intro full of the types of disconcerting polyrhythms that marked “Bloom,” the first cut on Radiohead’s dark horse The King of Limbs. “A Bit Wilder” follows (what a funny, distinctly “Malkmus” title), an almost Cure- or Joy Division-like electro-pop dirge, and as far as I can tell, both of these first two songs seem to be about getting rejected by members of the opposite sex, which of course would fit with the album’s title itself, too.
“Viktor Borgia” kicks off with this really beautiful riff on what sounds like an organ treated and bled down into this grating, grainy hiss, likely the work of programming on Pro Tools or some such program. The surprise then arrives in “Come Get Me,” a drolly amusing little indie-pop run-through which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Sparkle Hard, where guitars all of a sudden flood the mix and the drums certainly SOUND live, although they could certainly be sampled, which is probably the case. This doesn’t really sound like an album he needed much help on, which is to speak to of course his veteran status as a musician but also its care-free immediacy, wherein it gets by prominently on ideas and not on showmanship.
The best song on the album might be “Rushing the Acid Frat,” the single he slanged at us back in February or so. Again, surprisingly, this one is “rock,” burping out this tiny blip of atonal distortion at the start only to balloon out into this gorgeously psychedelic Monkees or Shondells type romp with thick, wilting rhythm guitar and a signature string-bending solo. My favorite part about the track, though, nonetheless, might be the echo-y vocals, which give the effect that there are background musicians on hand and shed a little more sense of festivity on to this LP which is otherwise quite bare, obviously, in that it is after all a solo project.
“Love the Door” is a strange but listenable interlude to follow the energetic (are those even emotions being expressed) climax of “Rushing the Acid Frat,” to then parlay into two more choice numbers, “Boss Viscerate” and “Ocean of Revenge.” The former follows with the lyrical themes established very early on, which seem to pertain to things like getting old and the things which used to work for you not working anymore (in other words the “groove” employed is the same, it’s just met with different, unforeseen results). “Ocean of Revenge,” then, boasts quite the lyrical pairing indeed: “I dragged my a** to Mississippi / Where cotton’s king and river’s weepy / And there upon three red clay acres / I tend the crops for Mr. Baker / A Southern son who hates the ones / Who till his soil and the blood will boil”. I mean, that is a set of lyrics you just don’t hear every day. In listening to it a second time, I noticed the part about “sailing across the ocean,” which would obviously position it as a sort of plaint on the part of the black man, although why would sailing across the ocean be something that they’d need in order to get revenge, then? Anyway, don’t put this album on around a bunch of impatient ants. Give it a fair listen in the right company (which sometimes is no company) and get to know the dizzying stylistic variation, which splits a divide of ingratiating equality between rock and that sort of Radiohead robots-on-Xanax nook.