February 12, 2001 12:00 PM

Stephen Malkmus (Matador)

Ever heard of the band Pavement? If not, you’re hardly alone. The kings of 1990s college rock did not sell millions of albums, but they certainly attracted a core of devoted fans with their intelligently groovy sound before they broke up two years ago. This first solo project from Malkmus, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, makes a fine introduction.

Malkmus has shed Pavement’s muddy-sounding guitars for a snappier, cleaner sound. While the arch, literary-seeming lyrics are sometimes hard to decipher, the clever melodies and rhythmically complex arrangements are the musical equivalent of black licorice—a sweet, adult taste. There’s something for everyone here: “Jo Jo’s Jacket” has a falsetto sing-along chorus. “Phantasies” harks back to Lou Reed at his jovial, early 1970s best. “Trojan Curfew” entices with its syrupy slide guitar. Malkmus sings them all in a sly, reassuring voice that sounds as if he’s letting you in on a secret. For the uninitiated, that would be his talent.

Bottom Line: Cult rocker expands his flock

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