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Ramp of Death

Even internally, fandom can be deeply partisan, occasionally spawning dense debates about a band's or artist’s best songs. A few months back I wrote an article identifying and repping for my 10 favorite Silver Jews songs; something that I’d envisioned as a social bonding exercise instead resulted in me repeatedly defending my exclusion of “Random Rules.”

There are many Jicks songs I enjoy, but while picking 10 wouldn’t be a hassle, “Ramp of Death” towers over the other contenders to such a degree that it almost isn’t fair. This slice of faintly-tweaking choogle-prog, from 2003’s Pig Lib, gets by on a dazed hash of chummy bass, droning keyboard chords, the odd guitar solo, and an airy vocal unwilling to fully commit to a particular perspective. Nonetheless, it represents the dawning of Malkmus’ late prescriptive, avuncular streak.

Understated almost to a fault, “Ramp” sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of its flashier, gnarlier Pig Lib siblings and its cousins on other albums, despite the fact that it’s arguably the most composed, pointed song that Stephen Malkmus will ever write. Every note, every word, and every shift in pacing feels entirely deliberate, even as this glowing, amiable tune oozes forward slightly faster than the average garden slug, daring you to elide its charms, harboring multitudes.


In Texas, rain squalls tend to arrive without warning, slashing away the sun-baked integrity of what appeared to be a perfect day. “Ramp of Death” teeters on a freak storm’s edge, and if it were a Pavement song a bolt of feedback lightning might tear through it, with the players madly scrambling to knit the ambiance back together afterwards. Here, with the Jicks, it’s a dizzy, mood-stabilized glide.


Guitars are in residence throughout “Ramp of Death,” but for most of the song their involvement is glancing, strummy, an accent, like a shadow tagging along in the aft...