Real Emotional Trash: none of the above, unfortunately

21Mar08

Real Emotional Trash isn’t “jams” and it isn’t Stephen Malkmus’ usual songful shtick in disguise, either.  Neither of which would be definitively good or bad. It’s art-rock, which major mold-breakers like Arcade Fire and minor ones like Of Montreal have forced me to admit isn’t definitively bad, either. It’s in fact pretty close to the art-rock that I was afraid Pavement was turning into after first a 1994 performance I found meandering and almost entirely self-indulgent, and then Wowee Zowee before I felt how its tempo shifts and fragmentary nature flow like an album-long suite that’s often talked about but extremely rarely achieved at that level. This isn’t like that, I’m sure – its guitar textures too imitative of alternately Robert Fripp and Steve Howe and some art-metal jerk I’m privileged not to be able to identify (plus a few bars of Rick Wakeman from the keyb guy), the ten-minute title cut doesn’t help, and its straight parts are just too predictable rhythmically and structurally to provide much relief. And what clinches it are deliberate and/or prissy but always convoluted melodies that were a hallmark of the early ‘70s stuff. This is generally a more listenable than that (though I don’t hear a “Roundabout” or a “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”) because Malkmus still usually favors the chugging rhythms he developed with Pavement. But just because Yes and King Crimson usually set their tales in settings more exotic, fanciful and made-up than “Baltimore” doesn’t make Malkmus at this stage any earthier. When I want to know about Baltimore I’ll get lost driving back from the aquarium or listen to Nina Simone cover Randy Newman. Or even better, I’ll Netflix all those seasons I missed of HBO’s The Wire.   Anomaly:  The jaunty and genuinely quizzical “Gardenia,” which mentions an Afrikaner and Richard Avedon, and which runs under 3 minutes – and even there the best part is the (real trashy) ba-ba ba-da-da-da backup singers on the bridge.

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