STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS
"Face the Truth"
It wouldn't be quite right to call "Face the Truth" Stephen Malkmus's most consistent post-Pavement album. The disc, his third since the end of that slacker-rock band and his second with backup trio the Jicks, is more satisfying than its predecessors, but consistency isn't exactly the Portland, Ore., singer-guitarist's thing. The album includes "Baby C'mon," an uncharacteristically straightforward pop-rocker, and "Freeze the Saints," an almost-pretty ballad that channels Lloyd Cole. Also present in abundance, however, are the squawking synths, meandering guitar and madrigal melodies that make this set at least as "prog" as 2003's "Pig Lib."
The album begins with the oblique narrative of "Pencil Rot," in which falsetto back-up vocals alternate with the singer's plea to "save me from me." Yet no one is on hand to do that. Although the Jicks get billing, Malkmus is fully in charge, even when he sounds as if he's drifting. "It Kills," for example, shifts between lyrical, countrified passages and spiraling rejoinders, both of which rely primarily on Malkmus's guitar and voice. That voice can be stilted -- what other contemporary rocker uses the word "stadia''? -- but it's distinctive. If "Face the Truth" is all over the place, its digressions are of a piece with its flashes of brilliant cohesion.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with Paik.