New albums from Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, What Made Milwaukee Famous, and the Gutter Twins

  • By Andy Rathbun, Herald columnist
  • Sunday, March 2, 2008 10:28pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

On Tuesday, new releases are scheduled to hit stores from Stephen Malkmus &the Jicks, What Made Milwaukee Famous, and the Gutter Twins. Here’s a look at each.

Stephen Malkmus &The Jicks, “Real Emotional Trash” (Matador Records)

Stephen Malkmus just won’t grow up. Maybe he can’t.

Here he is, the former frontman of Pavement, nearly 20 years into being an indie rock touchstone, still crafting cracked and catchy songs such as “Dragonfly Pie,” about, well, pie-craving dragonflies.

His new album, “Real Emotional Trash,” comes off as a blissfully immature set from a guy who seems as opposed to aging as he is to hitting a note on key.

“Real Emotional Trash” has a bit of everything. There’s a pop-rock bounce to “Hopscotch Willie” that almost gets overwhelmed by the song’s seven-minute running time. Flashes of psychedelia burst from songs such as “Wicked Wanda” and “Real Emotional Trash,” the latter another epic clocking in at 10 minutes.

At times, the songs are a bit druggy, and at times, they’re plenty funny. At one point, Malkmus sings about a guy who’s like a pit bull “minus the mean.” Then, on “Cold Son,” a pretty midtempo number, he says he’s as frustrated as “a nympho stuck in a cloister.” God bless weird metaphors.

It’s tough to tell who his real emotional trash is meant to be. He has said in interviews he has no one in particular in mind — that the album is both real, somewhat emotional and trashy.

But it’s also adolescent, a romantic take on arrested development. And, as a result, it’s an amusing, frustrating and endearing collection, for better and worse.

What Made Milwaukee Famous, “What Doesn’t Kill Us” (Barsuk Records)

On “Sultan,” the lead single from What Made Milwaukee Famous’ latest album, the Austin-based rockers sing that “your only guarantee is your fear of the unknown” before a horn line tears into the song.

It’s one of a host of tracks on “What Doesn’t Kill Us” that have heat-seeking effectiveness, melding little bits of rock majesty — a piano here, a synthesizer there, some more horns — to the group’s guitar-driven sound. All of it hangs together, in part thanks to the clean vocals of Michael Kingcaid, who sounds a bit like a Tiger Beat version of Ryan Adams.

Sure, sometimes things sound a little too generic, like on “For the Birds,” a Rooneyesque pop song. But for every misfire, there’s a solid twist, like the way the tempo steadily accelerates during the rocker “And the Grief Goes On …”

Songs like that — and for the most part, the album itself — sum up the reason why an act on an indie label shouldn’t be called indie rock, necessarily. The title gives the impression the songs are for the navel-gazers or, yes, Pavement fans.

These songs have mainstream appeal tattooed all over the place.

The Gutter Twins, “Saturnalia” (Sub Pop Records)

After Greg Dulli, formerly of the Afghan Whigs, teamed up with former Screaming Trees member Mark Lanegan, he nicknamed the duo’s collaboration the Satanic Everly Brothers.

I don’t see it.

No, instead the group’s second album, “Saturnalia,” feels more like grown-up grunge: A slower, more atmospheric take on the angry immediacy of the 1990s rock revival.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t rock at times. “Idle Hands,” one of the few songs that goes for broke, has a chugging metal guitar backed by swooping, Middle Eastern-sounding strings.

But “Bete Noire,” a darker song, is more characteristic of the group. The track effectively melds a swampy organ with slurred vocals about a “long dead animal” — at least I think that’s the line — and a rootsy guitar solo.

The whole thing ends up sounding like background music from the scene of a car crash: unpleasant, even if it draws interested stares.

Columnist Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail

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