Buried beneath the inessential trash – the 10-minute digression of sonic experimentation of the album’s titular track comes to mind – is the most essential, “emotional” album that Stephen Malkmus has released in years. Malkmus dropped the uneven but often brilliant Real Emotional Trash, his first release on Matador Records since 2005, on an eager army of anxiously awaiting listeners March 4.

Malkmus has long been considered one of Indie rock’s most progressive progenitors, going all the way back to his leadership of Pavement, one of the ’90s most well-respected and influential bands. Of course he can’t help it if his albums aren’t as revered or loved as Slanted and Enchanted or Wowee Zowee, but you can’t blame the fans for hoping… Real Emotional Trash isn’t the best thing Malkmus has ever done, but it hints at an as-yet-unrealized potential for Malkmus, working the Jicks for the first time since 2003’s Pig Lib.

The Jicks’ most recent incarnation has Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, manning the drums. Weiss steps in to fill the shoes of the band’s original drummer, John Moen, who left the band to become a member of the Decemberists in 2006. Weiss’ drumming is rejuvenating, providing even the most meandering, laconically delivered songs with some buoyancy.

Beginning with the album’s first track, “Dragonfly Pie,” it’s clear that the band set out to create a sound that’s more experimental and more like its earlier releases than anything it did on its last release, 2005’s Face the Truth, which. Malkmus’ signature absurd, lyrical playfulness works well with all the psychedelia, resulting in a number of memorable tracks like the delightfully rhythmic delivery of “Hopscotch Willie.”
This is an album that doesn’t get bogged down by the band taking itself too seriously or concerning itself with structure. Unfortunately, this means that few of the album’s tracks are shorter than five minutes in length, and while most, if not all, start out promising, many diverge into experimental jams that wear out their welcome and will mostly likely have the impatient listener skipping ahead.
One of the album’s tightest and most memorable songs is one of its most unabashedly melodic and poppy: “Cold Son,” clocking in at 3:43, which begins slowly but builds up momentum through its strange electronic noodling, Malkmus’ crooned chorus and the male-female harmonies. While some of Trash’s longer songs are admirable and ambitious, it’s the shorter songs like “Cold Son” and “Gardenia” that peak the listener’s interest in what Malkmus and the Jicks produce next. Here’s to hoping it’s the phenomenally strange pop album they seem to be hinting at.

Three-and-a-half stars