In many ways, indie rock fans can be divided into two camps: Replacements fans and Pavement heads.  The two often cross paths, and, truly, you can’t be an indie rock fan without appreciating both seminal bands.  But at bottom, your heart responds most to the technically complex, pre-math rock and smart lyrics of Pavement, or the often sloppy but always emotional power of a Replacements record.  I fall into the latter camp, but not in any particularly extreme measure.  I dig ‘em both, but I’m much more likely to listen to “Tim.”

So I was thrilled to learn that 2011 would bring me new records by both Stephen Malkmus (with the Jicks, titled “Mirror Traffic”) and Tommy Stinson (“One Man Mutiny”).

The big question: Does either album measure up to the bandmembers’ prior, more famous works?

Hit the break and find out.

Malkmus is no stranger to solo work.   He’s released quite a few strong albums since Pavement broke up and this, his latest, is one of the strongest.  Produced by Beck Hansen, the album has all of Malkmus’ standard X-Gen politics (“I know what the Senator wants,” he says, “What the Senator wants is a blow job”) filled with cynicism and his characteristic flat affect.  The album is actually a lot closer to his Pavement work—probably because he recorded it while he was on that band’s 2010 reunion tour.  I know everyone else will tell you there’s not enough punk in here to warrant such a comparison, but I’m talking more feel than literal content.  The album is rough around the edges, but polished at the center.  It’s thematic, anthematic actually, powerful, and, truly, some of the best music Malkmus has ever made.

It’s not Pavement—it’s not even close to Pavement—but it’s a grown up version of the same ethos.  Beck doesn’t overpower the album with his production, either: It’s clean and crisp, but it’s not pop.  It’s lo fi indie rock, lyrically dense, mostly mid-tempo, with the occasional country-ish tune.  And it may be one of the best albums of 2011.

The intersection of country and rock is far more noticeable on Tommy Stinson’s solo release, One Man Mutiny, which is probably what you’d expect.  The Replacements always tread close to that fine line.  There’s nothing surprising here—but is a surprise really what you want from an established artist?  I don’t think so.  I think you want to hear him do what he does best, and in that account, Stinson delivers.

Stinson, like Malkmus, isn’t looking to shock you with a radically different album of cabaret ballads.  He’s looking to deliver another in a long line of consistently enjoyable solo albums.  I loved it.  I recognize that to indie snobs Malkmus’ album is “better”—and it may even stay on my rotation list longer—but Stinson’s album is more fun, more accessible, and a great ride.  Where’s it’s a tune about how he goes “from zero to stupid in just one drink,” or his Dylanesque accusations to a lover in “One Man Mutiny,” this album should sell concert tickets.  It won’t change your life, it won’t change your mind about Stinson or the Replacements, but it should keep you interested start to finish.  And when you hit replay, you’ll already be singing along.

To sum up: Both of these are terrific releases, well worth your hard-earned money.  Malkmus is more of a departure from what you’re used to, but it doesn’t travel so far as to be unrecognizable.  Stinson treads familiar ground, but if you’re a fan, you’ll be glad he did.

Check ‘em out!

Senator (from Mirror Traffic)
http://soundowl.com/embed/1q03

Zero to Stupid (from One Man Mutiny)
http://soundowl.com/embed/1q04

…And check out some bonus tunes!

Box Elder (Pavement Cover)-Surfer Blood
http://soundowl.com/embed/1q06

I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man-Replacements
http://soundowl.com/embed/1q05