April 10, 2003

Shoes That Never Wore Thin

Print More

There is a not so old adage that goes “if punk rock is a belt, indie rock is a pair of shoes.” As kitschy, metal-studded, black leather belts wrapped around thrift store pants have come to define the punk aesthetic, quirky soft-soled, bowling shoe-esque kicks have supported the ever-so-hip feet of indie rockers for over a decade.

If this generalization holds any truth, Stephen Malkmus would have the quintessential tattered and worn pair of shoes. After all of the stains of spilt drinks and grime from the uncountable stages he trode upon throughout his time as frontman for seminal indie rockers Pavement, and his current outfit The Jicks, it is a wonder Malkmus hasn’t set his footwear aside for some other style. Hell, who knew someone could ride out a pair for this long? Yet remarkably, through the course of his indie stardom, his fabled shoes have not failed him, but instead they’ve weathered the years and grown character with each use. Interestingly, their new shape might just be their most becoming yet.

And for all of the recent post-mortem celebration of Pavement through the re-release of Slanted and Enchanted and the touching Slow Century DVD, Pig Lib demonstrates that indie rock is not about to fall by the wayside, but rather the music remains open to new permutations. Granted, Malkmus’ signature rambling voice, absurd lyrics, and delicious guitar hooks are so recognizable they seem nearly immune to change, but the nuance and subtle differences of his latest work go a long way. Gone are the loose-seemed, ragged edges of Pavement’s Crooked or Slanted work; it’s even distinct from Malkmus’ well-produced solo debut of 2001. Instead, Pig Lib feels more composed and patient, and as a result, the climaxes remain just as poignant — each song is given its due time to rise and fall as the band journeys through multi-layered pop bliss.

“(Do Not Feed The) Oyster” displays Malkmus and the Jicks’ acute compositional ability. Complete with slinky, wailing guitar lines that build with the support of Joanna Bolme’s supportive bass, John Moen’s responsive drums, and Mike Clark’s back-up guitar, the track oscillates from meandering git-box melodies, to focused psychedelic-prog rock-outs. And with lyrics like “Do not the feed the oysters under a cloud/ they’ll suck you like a sea gull into the sound,” Malkmus is once again back with his playfully cryptic banter.

“Us,” the closer of Pig Lib, leaves the listener with some lush harmonies Yo La Tengo style. The song almost seems like Malkmus’ version of Ira and Georgia’s love ballad “Our Way to Fall,” as Joanna, Mike and Malkmus harmonize to sound the uncertain exhilaration and amorousness at the start of a relationship. Singing “I wish we could get our act together/ make some sense of present tense all right/ take our time with what we find in feelin’/ don’t you know there’s someplace else that we can go/ trees to climb,” Malkmus concludes his album in fine indie form with a spotted wave of punctuated guitar notes and mellifluous distortion.

Though Malkmus has donned much the same pair of shoes for the duration of his music career, his kicks continue to allow for growth and certain ripeness with age. In this sense, Pig Lib does not blow minds, but it deftly seduces the listener with the “Gold Soundz” of indie rock once again.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman