Tuesday, March 4, 2008

New Albums from Stephen Malkmus, Smashing Pumpkins

By Evan Rytlewski
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Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Real Emotional Trash”

Casual Pavement fans needn’t leave the light on anymore. Malkmus’ newest album is so far removed from the succinct, messy pop of Pavement that there’s reason to doubt the Malkmus of yore will ever return. That said, Real Emotional Trash isn’t quite the noodly nod to the Bonarro crowd that some disappointed fans have dismissed it as. Its proggy jams may be long, but they’re also heavy, freaky and weird. Malkmus’ twisty, oddly tuned guitar solos are all over the album, pushing most of the songs past the five-minute mark, and driving even the shortest ones toward bizarre tangents. It’s to his credit as a guitarist that Malkmus can fill a seven-minute jam with the same warmth and enthusiasm he used to bring to three-minute pop songs, but that’s small comfort to fans who believe Malkmus’ music is best served abridged.

Smashing Pumpkins – “American Gothic” EP

I was just as disappointed with Smashing Pumpkins (sorta) reunion album last year as every other critic, but judging from the twinge of excitement I felt when a hard copy of the group’s new iTunes-only EP crossed my desk yesterday, I haven’t entirely written off the band. Not that it takes much to improve on Zeitgeists tuneless alt-metal assault, but the mellowed-out American Gothic is a huge step in the right direction. Following in the footsteps of latter-day Cure, Billy Corgan sews the old heart to his sleeve again for a set of four endearingly clumsy songs about love and heartbreak. These ballads never approach “Tonight, Tonight” levels of grandiosity, but Corgan taps something genuine when he sings, “When will I see you agggggain, aggggggain, aggggain?” With each repetition of the question, the song’s romantic tension gives way to disappointment, then desperation.
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