Nobody was sure what to expect when Pavement, once one of the most promising bands of the nineties, decided to call it quits after their 1999 album Terror Twilight. One thing was for sure, though, people didnít expect the members of Pavement to split off and enjoy either mild or considerable success either as a solo artist or with another band. None have been as successful, or as good for that matter, as Stephen Malkmusí solo career with his new band the Jicks. Within only two years of the break-up, Stephen assembled two of his Californian friends, who together made The Jicks, and began writing stuff that may have echoed with Pavement influence, but had a different and, essentially, cleaner sound to it, as well as the array of new influences that came with his new band. This is really a phenomenal debut.
Like I said, people didnít know what to expect from Pavement mastermind Stephen Malkmus. But what you hear from this album is almost Pavement-free. The majority of this album are slower and drastically beautiful ballads that range from stories of kids being abducted by pirates (The Hook
), an eighteen year old girl dating a 32 year old man in a sixties cover band (Jenny and the Ess-Dog
), and even an astronomers troublesome adventures into space (Vague Space
). Itís hard to avoid drawing comparisons with Pavementís quirky and poetic lyrics, but it also makes sense that Stephen has made the songs into something Pavement wouldíve considered to low-brow. Of course itís suiting that the music to go along with these songs seem fitting with the stories. On The Hook
, the music echoes with earnest balladry and acoustic guitar, but also has a sly twist of sinister melodies that somehow remind the listener of pirates. On Jenny and the Ess-Dog
, the music is romantic in itís little California surf way, therefore echoing in sixties nostalgia for a little while, which then erupts into an oddity filled prog-fest, coincidentally when Jenny seems to have gotten into a deadly accident. But itís Vague Space
that seems to emit a latch-like grip on the listener. Though itís hard to stumble on what the song is singing about, it doesnít really seem to matter. The song is so drastically beautiful, without being extremely complex. Basically, the layers of different instruments and dimensions that lay down on the acoustic guitar strumming Incubus
-like chords are incredible. Stephenís vocals have never been better or mellower, and they suit the song perfectly. And who really can resist the soft bang of Jamaican steel drumming in the background? This song is really amazing just for the sheer glacial beauty of it, plus it boasts some of the greatest guitar work on the album. Just one complaint, however, itís way too short.
The album is chock-full of non-sappy ballads such as Vague Space
. The three that catch my mind are respectively Church On White
, Pink India
, and Trojan Curfew
. The best of these tracks are hard to determine. Each song is a masterpiece of laid back California balladry, and while they are respectively their own individual songs, they all seem to bring the same feeling. They all beckon you to sit back and think. But there are differences, mostly lying in the deliverance of the music. While somewhat similar, the music on these tracks each come from a different perspective. Church On White
has more of a sad, dreary and even mildly depressing aspect to it, Pink India
is the epic ballad of visiting far off places and meeting new people, and Trojan Curfew
is the Beatle-esque hummer, the piece of music so moving and gargantuan that you really donít care what olí S.M. sings about. It doesnít really matter, though, because the lyrics seem to be able to be glued to any kind of situation. Itís, quite frankly, astonishing to listen to. While differences rarely collide this smoothly, itís also quite easy to see that Stephen had the same kind of motive when he wrote these songs. He wanted us to hear what was on his mind besides crazy, oddball jams and spastic solos that occupied a good deal of Pavementís songs. These are real songs with a real feel to them, and itís easy to identify with them.
And while the ballads seem to take up the majority of this album, itís also hard to ignore the amazing variety that the album has to offer. On the opener Black Book
, Stephen and the guys serve up a bluegrass-drenched groove piece. It's easy to see that Stephen had this idea bottled up for a while, seeing as he does the song so well. And while bluegrass is not always drink-yourself-to-death music, this song kind of comes close to not exactly depressing, but it has an edge that can give the listener a sense of, to a minimal extent, anger. Though the song is far from angry, it's not exactly happy either. The solo is something straight out of an effect-pedal's nightmare, and as the conitnuous layers of effect-laden guitar come on, the song gets ready for it's big finale. But on Phantasies
, one of the album's flaws, the poppiness that Pavement might have dabbled with here and there come up on a barely listenable song that sounds like an anthem for a ride at Disney World. But leave it to Stephen to try and add an odd twist to it. Xylophone, echoing and spinning breakdowns and surf-guitar solos all enter the stage, but also exit leaving a pretty bad impression on the listener. It's boring, it's odd, it's just not good.
The finale Deado
is another country inspired ditty that doesn't exactly serve up an extremely brilliant and memorable song, but this song is a pretty good way to end the album. Basically, this album is a somewhat gorgeous song at times, especially in the chorus, where Stephen raps out Jan, who is supposedly "Divine, divine, divine, divine". Coincidentally, the chorus is also where the least amount of experimental guitar work happens, but when it does (most of the time), it's quite interesting, especially the solo that nears the end. Jo-Jo's Jacket
is not, despite how it opens up, a piano laced song with a guy talking about how his shaved head has liberated him from stupid vanities. It's another oddball song that have some really great lyrics and even some decent music, but it just doesn't seem necessary for the guys to venture into minimalist doo-wop in the chorus. And the extremely annoying solo doesn't help any.
So, basically, this is how you do a solo career. This album is mostly a slow, easy going album that has thrills and chills, and serves up some amazing songs. Stephen has obviously gotten more oblique about oddity songs and constanty entertaining the listener with awe-inspiring oddball lyrics and melodies, but at the same time he makes the stumble of adding one or two "interesting" songs that make this album stumble just a bit. But for the most part, this album is a breathtaking, memorable and extremely solemn album that goes to show that solo careers don't always have to suck.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks:
Stephen Malkmus: Vocals, Guitar, Keys and Assorted Percussion
Joanna Bolme: Bass, Keybass, Backing Vocals
John Moen: Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals