Quirky but cool Lo-Fi Rock from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
It’s rare that a guy leaves a successful band and then goes on to release better music as a solo artist. I’m trying to think of examples of when this happened. Peter Gabriel made some fantastic music after he left Genesis, but was it better than The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Robert Plant solo stuff is great but it doesn’t hold a candle to the depth and breadth of Led Zeppelin. Steve Winwood was better with Traffic. Soul Coughing was head and shoulders above Mike Doughty’s (very good) solo material. Sting’s great, but the Police were cooler. David Byrne, Trey Anastasio, Jason Falkner, any Beatle. These guys were all members of synergetic groups whose members were able to add to someone’s good musical ideas to make them great songs.
Now, obviously, all these guys aren’t playing by themselves. Almost everyone has a band. Somehow, though, when one guy holds the reins – when it is his (or her) band first, not a band of which he (or she) is just a member, there is often a let down.
Maybe Eric Clapton’s solo material was better than the Yardbirds. Cream, though…? I will happily entertain suggestions if someone can think of an example I missed.
The reason I bring this up is today’s recommendation. I have listened to a lot of Pavement. I like a few songs off Wowee Zowee. Other albums had one, maybe two songs that I thought were pretty good. Pavement was a pretty successful band, too. They never had a huge presence on commercial radio, but you could hear them all over college radio in the 90s. They toured the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and played Lollapalooza. They definitely had at least a cult following and are cited as an influential Lo-Fi band.
Pavement broke up in 2000 and guitarist/singer Stephen Malkmus went on to play with Siver Jews and The Jicks. Or I should say, “Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks,” since that is their name. Today, I want you to check out their second release, ‘Pig Lib.’
The Lo-Fi sound is still there, but the production is fuller, more even and ear-friendly. In fact, I find this entire album to be less weird and more accessible than almost any Pavement I’ve heard. In particular, Malkmus’ talent for fitting lyrics and melodies together shines on this album. It’s hard to explain. Some of the melodies are a little weird, but they fit so well with the idea he is expressing they completely work. Give a listen to some of these and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
- Water and a Seat – The intro features a 10-beat cycle before dropping into a dirty, sloppy, but somehow funky groove. Nearly every musician has written at least one song about insanity. This is theirs, but it’s cool.
- Ramp of Death – This is a pretty little Pop melody with some cool lyrics. Malkmus’ nearly out-of-tune voice reminds me of Lou Reed.
- (Do Not Feed the) Oyster – Here is a fine example of Malkmus fitting weird lyrics into such an appropriate melody that it’s all smooth and easily digestible. Yes, even underground oysters.
- Vanessa from Queens – Another pleasant Pop melody, this time some Hammond-esque keyboards, handclaps, and some pretty guitar work.
- Dark Wave – A high-energy, yet halting tune about… well, there’s no telling what it’s about, really.
- Craw Song – Funny song about a love quadrangle. Probably my favorite lyrics on the album. I provide this link because it is the whole tune on YouTube. Try not to be distracted by the accompanying student video.
There has been some talk about a Pavement reunion. Not to be a dick, but I’m kind of hoping that doesn’t happen.
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