Stephen Malkmus

Pig Lib (Matador)

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The reaction to Steve Malkmus's eponymous 2001 debut was astonishingly consistent. "Whew," sighed hardcore Pavement fans: Malkmus was a little poppier, a little more straightforward than any Pavement recording, but it still sounded like Pavement. Non-fans seemed likewise relieved: The wordplay made actual sense, and you could even hum along to a song or two, without being hit by such a welter of fuzz that you had to assume it had been recorded as planes flew low overhead.

Listening to Pig Lib, though, reveals that Malkmus's first solo offering was the start of something new: a genuine impulse to straight-up rock. Pig Lib is heavier on the guitars than its predecessor, the band is even tighter now, and the same clarity is heard in Malkmus's vocal melodies and lyrics. But, like Malkmus, it's hard to judge whether any of these songs will stick. "Us" is pretty and subdued and probably will, but the catchiest ones -- "Vanessa From Queens," "Craw Song" -- are in danger of becoming cute. The smart money's on underdog numbers like "Animal Midnight," "Witch Mountain Bridge," and "1% of One"; their spaced-out, atmospheric rock may accumulate power on repeated plays. But then, the people who never loved Pavement may, as usual, feel differently. Or, perhaps, the same.

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