It was a quiet '06 for our man Stephen Malkmus. Or was it? The specter of Pavement loomed large over indie rock's latest pack of buzz bands, most notably Minneapolis' marvelously askew Tapes 'N' Tapes. And the expansive decade-later reissue of Wowee Zowee— Pavement's last great album as well as their weirdest—restored its spotty reputation once and for all. Meanwhile, Malkmus was busy covering such Dylan classics as "Maggie's Farm" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" for Todd Haynes' quasi-biopic I'm Not There, in which a handful of different actors portray the living legend. He also managed to recruit Janet Weiss, fresh off the dissolution of Sleater-Kinney, as the new drummer of his backing band, the Jicks.
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Maybe, too, it took some people an extra year to let 2005's Face the Truth sink in. The third album—or is that Difficult Third Album?—of Malkmus' solo career is less diverse but just as unhinged as Wowee Zowee (Pavement's third) and finds him gone completely off the deep end lyrically. In one song he's lingering on a mother's fine cooking (for the record, crepes can indeed look like tortillas) and in others he's rattling off cartoon-ish wordplay that offers surprising emotional heft once you get past the surface trickery.
He may routinely write nutty lyrics over colorfully erratic music, but Malkmus has yet to wear out the element of surprise. It helps that each solo album has been denser and braver than the last, from the sunny pop gloss of his self-titled debut to the prog-mod Pig Lib and genre-hopping Face the Truth. Of course, the man's well-documented charisma oozes through every sly turn of phrase and oddball guitar lick.
It's a comfort to know that even as Pavement grows ever more influential, Malkmus will be off making albums just as uncompromising, alien and beguiling as his old band's best work. Try though they might, it's doubtful his youthful acolytes will ever catch up.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and Entrance at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7 p.m. $15-17. All ages.