Stephen Malkmus

Rumors of a band called Pavement--the mysterious trio of S.M., G. Young, and someone named Spiral Stairs--first circulated among post-prog-rock indie kids in the late '80s. A few punky noise-rock singles on college radio caused some ripples in the burgeoning underground, but the band's first full-length record--Slanted and Enchanted (1992)--broke the Pavement wave, sending thousands of college boys and twenty-somethings of above-average intelligence down a fast, furious and rocky stream of what music writer Alex Ross has called "sublime nonsense." Before that river ran dry in 1999, we had 10 good years of solid Pavement.

Those early tunes etched Pavement's trademarks of lo-fi driving guitars, yelling, loopy woo-woo refrains and weird lyrics into the minds of a small but thrilled public. During the '90s, the group evolved into S.M. (Stephen Malkmus) plus four, with a new drummer replacing Young in 1992. The band collected its early singles on Westing (by musket and sextant), the title of which signaled the band's on and off obsession with American history. (Pavement's contribution to the 1993 compilation album No Alternative further defined that focus; "The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" managed to connect the history of R.E.M. to Sherman's march through Georgia.)

During the past decade, the band delivered an elegant and enigmatic EP, Watery,

Still slanted and enchanted.

Domestic, and four more full-length albums: The twangy pop record Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994) that sported a near hit with "Cut Your Hair"; Wowee Zowee (1995), a critical disaster loved by the faithful; Brighten the Corners (1997), featuring the ecstatic "Stereo" and the twinkly Hollywood tune "Shady Lane"; and the smooth and tuneful, slightly over-produced Terror Twilight (1999). When they eventually split up, Pavement had earned the dubious honor of being the most famous unfamous band in recent rock history.

Now we have the new, eponymous record from Malkmus: sometime-screamer, consistently elusive, astonishingly literate and oft-lovely lyricist, Scrabble smartie, total rock-babe. Stephen Malkmus is fun and funny, pretty at times, sexy even. On this first solo record, Malkmus performs some of his signature tricks, rhyming words that don't really rhyme, stretching the simplest two-syllable term into a lyric of three or four beats, sketching events and people with the cleverness and precision of David Foster Wallace. He lets his voice crack here and there, too--a talent he put to great use a few years back on the Silver Jews' dark and brilliant American Water.



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