For Stephen Malkmus fans — particularly those of us who are so obsessed with Pavement’s former frontman that we track the frequency with which his sweaters are worn in footage from The Slow Century DVD — it’s a time of rejoicing. His 2001 self-titled solo offering, with its whimsical, weird pop, dashed Pavement devotees’ hopes that their leader would carry the band’s legacy into the new decade. But finally Malkmus has released what might be the most Pavement-esque album of his solo career, not to mention a massive step forward for him as an individual.
Early critical discussions have hinged on Face the Truth and its relationship to the ever-iconic Malkmus — namely that this album is either a maturation or a return to the experimental impulses that were displayed so well in the context of Pavement. While these assessments are accurate, they are not mutually exclusive: Pavement’s shifts in mood and overarching aesthetic from album to album became a career signature, and Malkmus’s solo efforts — cute/weird/poppy, brooding/emotional/guitar-driven and now sharp/convoluted/ultra-abstract — have followed the same crooked path.
Accessibility has always been a concern of Malkmus, Pavement’s most immediately approachable work came in short, quick punches (“Summer Babe”, “Newark Wilder”) and Malkmus himself has struggled with making song compositions that put brevity before complexity.
The Jicks, his backing band, have proved to be more than a competent foil to Malkmus, covering his weak sports and fleshing out his storytelling.
This album isn’t nearly as free-form as his first two solo efforts but Face the Truth still waxes playful and sweet in the falsetto vocals behind the harsh synths of opener “Pencil Rot,” and the three-tissue “Freeze the Saints” might as well be Face the Truth‘s “Church on White.” It’s not necessarily a starting point for people new to Pavement, but it may just be the perfect entry point into the world of Malkmus. Aspects of the sound that once seemed so singularly “Pavement” now seems indelibly “Malkmus.” Nobody — least of all Malkmus — will ever completely sound like Pavement, but it’s great to hear the heart of that band progressing in his own right.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars