FACE THE TRUTH unveils a new STEPHEN MALKMUS. His exuberance has given way to bliss, and his performances are more disarming and electrifying than ever. The volatile SM who sang "Water and a Seat" as if he were Muhammad Ali extolling his punch and shuffle is missing. On FACE THE TRUTH we hear a beseeching, almost quizzical SM who has - to generalize - returned to his first influences. And he has downplayed his guitar virtuosity behind his singing and arranging.
SM has relaxed. And he refuses to relax. He still delivers to his audience intricate scores, precisely performed. He finds room for the full range of Americana: country to pop, jazz and disco. In fact the fake disco of "Kindling for the Master" owes a lot to SM's 1990's vision of sexuality, framed in pumping groaning funk. He seems as content with a punching-bag beat as he does with the most fragile DIY jam. The search for new voices lead him to sounds in danger of becoming obsolete.
Southwestern Blues, INXS, Simon and Garfunkel, Turkish Psych, are only some of the references for FACE THE TRUTH. There is psycho blues meets Memphis Funk ("It Kills"), there is tasteful rock and roll ("Baby Come On"). It is a cosmopolitan map, wider than the loyalties of perhaps ANY other contemporary artist. Certainly no other indie boy could make a drum machine swing with such silky ease as SM does on "Pencil Rot". None would have thought of pitting Moogs against a power trio in "Malediction". And only Tiny Tim could sing against the grain of these furious arrangements in such a consoling way.
The distorted vocals on "Mama" are a standout. While SM croons, he tempers his attack into a repressed serenity that recalls Morrissey fronting The Fall.
SM has not ended his love affair with country music either - check out "Freeze the Saints". SM sings alone (doubled) in the crying loneliness unique to the sound he pioneered, his words pouring through a gauntlet of throat, tongue, and lips - he sounds a lot like himself.
Even more Pavement-derived is "Post Paint Boy". SM's devotional voice matches the halcyon times of 'Wowee Zowee.' But ten years of repetition has not expelled the tension and SM still exploits the contrast. His argumentative singing is countered by the flowing guitars.
So check out FACE THE TRUTH. Don't resolve the tension - it is a no-brainer.
"The man has an uncanny ability to transliterate the sounds only record collectors can hear – early Thin Lizzy, for instance – into a passionate ache anyone can love." -- Village Voice