There are numerous highlights to Real Emotional Trash, the new album from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, but for the sake of a snappy opening sentence to this column, I'd wager the most striking one is that the album will not make you long for a Pavement reunion. In fact, the mere idea of the indie rock legends getting back together for one more go at "Summer Babe" will seem like a downright insulting act of '90s revisionism. Instead, Real Emotional Trash is a bold declaration that unifies the symbiotic relationship between Malkmus—the iconic frontman and slack-rock legend that could really give a shit of what people think of him—and the Jicks, his trusty backing band, now with added sheen in the form of new drummer Janet Weiss.
No longer seeming like hired guns killing time before Spiral Stairs returns to the stage, the Jicks' contributions to Trash are marvelous and bountiful. They pace the songs steadily, pep them up when they get too jam-heavy, and allow Malkmus to sound at ease in a way he hasn't in years. So how did this loose, meandering rock ensemble—one that seamlessly crafts endlessly appealing loose-knit rock numbers—right the solo career of one of rock music's most enigmatic characters? Beats me. But Trash is definitely the death rattle for the Pavement reunion, so now all those longtime fanboys can stop with the online petitions and hunger strikes on Bob Nastanovich's lawn. (Note to Malkmus: Please don't announce a Lollapalooza reunion show the day after this column runs just to make me look bad, okay?)
One noticeable change is that Trash has shortened the jam sessions to a more Wowee Zowee-esque length, without denying Malkmus his indie-rock-god-given right to unleash some furious guitar-sturbation from time to time. This holds true on the title track, which chugs along at a wee bit over the 10-minute mark, starting slowly and centering on Malkmus' patented vocal delivery before erupting into a galloping rock jamboree that finds the group sounding more carefree than they ever have. The highlight of the record is the textured and somber "Out of Reaches," which shows a surprisingly emotional side to Malkmus (a frontman known for never showing his hand or clouding his art with personal troubles), as he softly repeats the refrain "I know the tide will turn" over and over as the instrumentation fades away. Whether that is a dire prediction of rough seas ahead or a hopeful declaration is never made clear. It seems that Malkmus wouldn't have it any other way.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks will play a secret show somewhere in Portland on Tuesday, March 4.