To call Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Smog's Bill Callahan icons of indie rock is no mere hyperbole. But besides the fact that the two have birthed thousands of misfit, hyper-intellectual troubadours, the parallels in their careers are uncanny. Both began recording in the late '80s; both released EPs on the fledgling Drag City imprint before issuing seminal full-length debuts in 1992; both are pioneers of the lo-fi diaspora that has been absorbed by the underground and the mainstream over the past fifteen years. And when Malkmus, fresh from Pavement's breakup in 2000, struck out alone, his arc moved even closer to that of Smog, which has primarily been Callahan's solo project all along.
Now, within a week of each other, Malkmus and Callahan have added new discs to their formidable oeuvres of spoken-sung tunecraft. Face the Truth is the erstwhile Pavement leader's most quirk-riddled and shambolic offering to date. Gone is the prog grandeur of 2003's Pig Iron, replaced by a rough-hewn majesty that revisits the DIY ethic of Malkmus's youth. Once a star, now a dad, he approaches bedroom pop as a repository of domestic insularity and sloppy, stained-sheet sexiness.
Callahan, on the other hand, weighs in with the staggering gravity of A River Ain't Too Much to Love, a stab even deeper into Smog's psychic murk. With folk-corroded guitars, hovering piano and a delicacy bordering on ghostliness, the auteur continues to do what he does best -- that is, stand immobile as the cruel gales of memory and perversion seethe around and through him.
Of course, as singular and influential as they are, neither of these voices was born in a vacuum: Malkmus's warbled absurdity continues to echo Mark E. Smith and Frank Black, and Callahan still channels the bone-dry rasps of Fred Neil and Michael Gira. But in unleashing two of the best works of their careers, they've cemented even further their status as not just icons, but tellers of tales and spinners of relevant, adventurous melodies.
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