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Published: 2005/06/02
by Jesse Jarnow

Face the Truth – Stephen Malkmus

Matador Records 650-2

I dunno where the dude came from, or who invited him back from the bar, but there he was in my neighbor's living room, drunk as fuck, and looking as if he had a mind to lurch into action at any moment, should the idea strike him. Several times, he forgot that my friend had asked him not to smoke, lit a cigarette he kept behind his ear, took a drag, was reprimanded, apologized profusely, stubbed it out on the bottom of his flip-flop, put the cigarette back behind his ear, and — uncrossing his legs — placed his flip-flop on the floor, getting ash all over the hardwood.

He was an indeterminate 20something hipster, a student, shaggy-haired and bright-eyed, who'd moved to Williamsburg from upstate somewhere, Rochester maybe, and bummed from CraigsList sublet to CraigsList sublet. He creeped the hell out of my buddy's roommate. "He kept staring at me," she said. "I'd have to look away in order not to make eye contact." But that was later.

We'd gotten stoned, and he'd pulled the bong, too, which — unfortunately — didn't calm him down, though at least inserted ponderous silences into his chatter about Nietzsche and Broken Social Scene and how he just needed to get away to Japan. What did silence him, froze him up, was the new Stephen Malkmus album, which came on iTunes. The abstract electronic fanfare at the top of "Pencil Rot" pricked his ears, and he seemed to know. I studied him curiously, and he wheeled his head, making direct eye contact with me — the only time I saw his eyes clear and focused all evening.

From there, it was silence. At least from him. Our conversation resumed as normal, an implicitly shared glee that we no longer had to worry about the sketchy guy. He sat in rapture as Malkmus — same as it ever was — unknotted his jerky melodies atop corkscrew guitars. The conversation turned to Malkmus and the guy didn't even bat an eye.

"I actually like Malkmus solo as much as with Pavement," I told my neighbor, partially 'cause it was the truth, but half-baiting the sketchy guy to see if he'd react. He didn't. With each passing album, Malkmus turns more and more into Neil Young (musically, anyway), delivering nearly ethereal love songs with idiosyncratic heartache. Where Young reaches for hippie drama to fuel his falsettos, Malkmus goes for slacker laconics. I think the move suits him, mostly because he's done it without losing the qualities that make him instantly identifiable. Just ask our friend in the corner.

I looked for signs of the internal utopia he was clearly roaming, reading deeply into his eyebrow twitches during the bizarro call-and-response of the eight-minute "No More Shoes," his subtly crumpling dimples at Malkmus's ragged self-harmony on "Loud Cloud Crowd," his darting pupils accompanying the jangly sing-song of "Mama." It all sounded exactly like Malkmus, who could keep on churning out albums like this for the rest of his career (and might well do that).

We'd passed the bong again, which might've been a bad idea, and as "Post-Paint Boy" came on, the dude clutched the arm of the couch and turned his head towards my friend. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you so much. This is…" and he trailed off, his ear suddenly pulling him back towards Face the Truth.

When the album ended and the Life Aquatic soundtrack came on, he paused. "Since the war," he started, "I haven’t been the same. I—"

"Did you fight?" my friend interrupted.

"No," the guy replied, "but I had a dream about it." And it went from there.

By the time we called a cab for him — after he'd explained his personal cosmology, unsuccessfully tried to get my friend's roommate's cell number (somehow wrangling my friend's number and calling him for it the next day), and unfurled several seriously paranoid conspiracy yarns about ex-roommates — it dawned on me that we might have the CraigsList Charles Manson on our hands, a horrible creature a long time coming.

It was getting near five in the morning by that point, and I didn't want to think about it. Let his roommate deal with him. He was nearly gone as we led him down the stairs to the front door, making sure he didn't fall. "Listen to Sam Champion," I intoned quietly in his ear, hoping it would take. He murmured something. "Listen to Sam Champion," I said again.

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