Release Date: Jan 7, 2014
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The title is quintessentially Stephen Malkmus -- a conflation of two slang terms, one dating back to the hazed-out '60s, the other a vulgar remnant of modernity -- and, as it happens, Wig Out at Jagbags also sounds quintessentially Malkmusian. It's elastic guitar rock constructed partially out of cannabis guitar jams and partially out of punk rock squalls, both sides distinguished by wry melodicism and dexterous wordplay, not to mention Malkmus' lingering tendency to hide his accessible inclinations under sheets of six-strings. On 2011's Mirror Traffic, producer Beck prevented the Jicks from taking detours, but here the band is producing on its own, assisted by Remko Schouten, so they're free to follow wherever their whims may take them.
After five triumphant solo albums, the idea of Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks recording something that doesn't immediately snap your head back into a choke hold and ruffle your hair seems nonsensical. It's only after the 42 minutes spent with Wig Out at Jagbags that you'll realise this might not be a bad thing at all. Back in 2011, the Beck-assisted jam-fest Mirror Traffic did little other than literally wig out, resulting in a near-hour-long tour de force of dishevelled indie rock delight.
Stephen Malkmus is one of the last Nineties indie-rock titans who has kept making his own eccentric music, on his own merry terms. Though written while Malkmus was living in Berlin, the excellently titled Wig Out at Jagbags – his sixth album with the Jicks – shows his heart's still in his native California, as he whips up song structures that give him room to indulge his taste for hazy, cosmic jive, sardonic wit and unabashed guitar beauty. Somehow, the joker who sang "Fight This Generation" has ended up as the Eddie Vedder of irony.
On Wig Out at Jagbags, it occasionally sounds like Stephen Malkmus — the ageless California-bred/Portland-based former Pavement leader — wrote these inscrutable songs immediately after playing an all-night game of silly Scrabble with British aristocrats. He manipulates language and his eclectically inflected voice makes it feel like he's always on the brink of a bleary crack-up. His craftily contemporary words are housed in highly entertaining, sophisticated (vaguely classic) rock structures bolstered by blindingly blazing guitar parts and ear-grabbing left turns that produce a slew of cool treats.
If any musician seems perfectly suited to a position of indie rock elder statesman and wry social commentator then it is Stephen Malkmus. The former Pavement leader always seemed older than his years, and the fact that he has now released more albums with his band The Jicks than he ever did with Pavement, six now to be precise, removes him even further from those halcyon days in the indie rock zeitgeist. It’s a position he appears to revel in on the fantastically titled Wig Out At Jagbags.
"I been tripping my face off since breakfast," avers Stephen Malkmus, late in the Jicks' sixth album. The song is Cinnamon and Lesbians, and even though you don't believe him for a second – Malkmus, 47, is now a responsible father of two who moved, briefly, to Berlin in the run-up to this album, to enjoy its family-friendliness rather than its techno dungeons – that carefree line telegraphs something important about Wig Out at Jagbags. Since the demise of Malkmus's 90s band Pavement – erudite, messy; a heroic counterpoint to the hegemonic lurch of grunge – half of his albums have been knotted affairs.
If the fabulous title of Stephen Malkmus’ sixth album, ‘Wig Out at Jagbags’ (he also, apparently, had ‘Morrissey’s Trainwrecked Daughter’, ‘New Yoga for Cleavage Hounds’, ‘Swingers Blowing Freddie’ and ‘Chocolate Euros’ as potential titles) tells you anything it’s that, thankfully, some things don’t change. Stephen Malkmus is still witty and urbane. Stephen Malkmus still has an effortless ear for melody.
In this day and age, the idea of the rock star is dead and gone, having been replaced by the less self-destructive, more approachable, eternally hip indie-rock icon. Stephen Malkmus—whether he likes it or not—is exactly that. And that’s not because of what he’s done in the past. At 47, he’s still living it, only wiser and perhaps a little grayer.
By now, Stephen Malkmus has released more music as a solo artist than he did with his old band Pavement. This might surprise people like me, who given a few beers and a tolerant audience will still lapse into vague, sentimental reminiscences about seeing Pavement in late 1999, a few weeks before Malkmus got onstage in Brixton with handcuffs around his mic stand, telling the audience—in a rare moment of disclosure—that the cuffs were a symbol. This, it turns out, is how a poet breaks up a band.
Parsing Stephen Malkmus’ lyrics has been a pastime for indies going on close to a quarter century, so can it be any surprise that his latest album, Wig Out at Jagbags, serves up more than its fair share of lines that beg for reading too much into? Even though the former Pavement frontman claims in a recent Pitchfork interview that lyrics are “more placeholders” for him these days, Malkmus Kremlinologists will have a field day decoding the layers of meaning on Wig Out: Does Malkmus, say, identify with the aging punks on the cheeky romper “Rumble at the Rainbo” and offer a commentary on himself or is he just sending up the scene, as he asks, voice cracking, “What generation punks are we?” Could the Thin Lizzy-ish “Chartjunk”, which details the locker room dysfunction between former Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles and ballhogging underachiever Brandon Jennings, be interpreted as some kind of subconscious allegory about Pavement’s own interpersonal dynamics, particularly when Malkmus sneers, “I put the ‘I’ in team like no other”? And is the first single “Lariat” as close to an autobiography of what made Malkmus Malkmus as there’s ever been, with too many details not to be a first-person-ish sketch about his formative years as an undergrad? Often imitated, never duplicated, Malkmus’ musings, at their best, hit that sweet spot of being clever enough that you can enjoy the pomo poetics on their own terms, yet suggestive enough to hint at being more than that, at some deeper significance beneath the surface. On the whole, Wig Out at Jagbags strikes a good balance between a little bit of Malkmus being Malkmus and just enough of him letting his guard down, tapping into a more vulnerable side of him as a songwriter that’s underrated and overlooked because it’s so often deflected and obscured by the ingenious wordplay. As Malkmus tells Rolling Stone when looking back on Pavement’s heyday in the ‘90s,“being cynical just meant you cared.
“We lived on Tennyson and venison and The Grateful Dead,” sings Stephen Malkmus on ‘Lariat’, the third track on his sixth album with the Jicks, adding another food pairing to the menu that’s already given us oysters and dry Lancers wine on Pavement’s ‘Shady Lane’ and sag aloo with gin and tonic on ‘Pink India’ from 2001’s ‘Stephen Malkmus’. This time though, the 47-year-old is matching his food with the books and records from his past on an album that sees him squinting through rose-tinted specs at “the music from the best decade ever” (‘Lariat’ again), and writing tunes devoid of the sourness and inertia that characterised much of late-period Pavement and his solo career. It makes sense that Malkmus finds it easier to look back now.
Seeing as Stephen Malkmus has spent the last couple of years living in Berlin, one might expect Wig Out at Jagbags to be his version of Low, or The Idiot, or Drum's Not Dead. Rather, it sounds less like it was conceived and recorded in Continental Europe than produced at Abbey Road, in the 1970s, by Paul McCartney. As if embracing accusations that The Jicks are the Wings to Pavement's Beatles, Malkmus has created his most Wings-y album to date.
Simply because of their bandleader’s profile, there’s always a lot of straining to unpack every new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album. Despite their consistent commitment to delivering low stakes, yet masterful guitar rock songs for over a decade, you’d think Malkmus would eventually have some real thoughts on his reception to throw in somewhere among those winding, life-sponging lyrics. That’s not Stephen Malkmus.
Stephen Malkmus has now made as many albums as a solo artist as he did with Pavement, and, despite a slight softening of his sound on his last album, Mirror Traffic (via “production” from Beck), he’s always been a fairly singular guy. Nevertheless, each Pavement record had an identity absent from Malkmus’ solo work – and that’s not meant as a slight. He’s clearly headstrong, however laidback his sound, but Wig Out… offers the first suggestions that he’s made a textbook “Stephen Malkmus record”.
“Shanghai’ed in Oregon, cinnamon and lesbians,” Stephen Malkmus sings on his sixth solo album. He’s setting a scene, and it’s clear that scene is Portland, where he’s made his home for more than a decade now. Post-Portlandia, that city and its neo-hippie populace are egregiously easy targets, even if it’s never quite clear whether “Cinnamon & Lesbians” is paean or parody.
Former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has been reductively tagged as a slacker icon over the years, and if he hasn't expended much energy to debunk this in interviews, it's seemed less an expression of indifference than of wry amusement at the general laziness of the music press. However, his post-Pavement career worryingly suggested a kind of sulking defiance had set in, as if years of being called a self-indulgent, smart-assed dilettante had encouraged him to throw up his hands and embrace all the slurs. On his last album, Mirror Traffic, this congealed into an arch morass of aimless guitar wonkery, obnoxious vocal affectations, and depressingly dispassionate songwriting.
For many musicians, a move to Berlin may mark a fertile new period of creativity, a spiritual awakening, a shift into the harsh industrial sounds of the city. Rest assured however, longtime Malkmus fans, that the Pavement frontman's uprooting for his sixth album with the Jicks is nothing but a triviality: little has been lost and little gained; his arch lyricism still ripe and melodies rousing with his inimitable, crooked guitar playing. Much like 2011's Mirror Traffic, Wig Out is more succinct and direct than the first few Jicks releases, but any slick habits he's picked up are punctured by his trademark gobbledygook lyrics.
The relationship between dance music and soul singers has always been symbiotic. Dance music producers need the grit and texture of a human voice to flesh out their songs, and singers need a context in which to be heard, even if it’s not their native style. This has been going on, especially in England, for decades, though more often it’s the singers who’ve played second fiddle.
Putting on a new Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks album is like slipping into an old sweater to beat out the winter chill; you know it’s going to be a comfortable experience, but you notice new stains on the fabric every now and then. Unfortunately, like that sweater, the Jicks can sometimes be something you take for granted – guaranteed to bring out a reliably decent new LP at the start of every other year, which you file away after a couple of months, possibly remembering to include it in your end-of-year rundown. The nadir was 2011’s Beck-produced Mirror Traffic, which seemed all too eager to rub its left-turns in your face: the jarring coda of “Tigers” derailed an otherwise glorious pop stroll, that ill-fitting key change kept “Long Hard Book” from true bliss and, with a couple years’ remove, we can surely all agree that “Senator” suffered from one too many “blowjobs”.
opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER Once you’ve established a publicly accepted identity, is winning over new fans even possible? Pop culturally speaking, the longer a show, book, band or movie has been in existence, especially those with a fringe fan base, the chances that a consumer is going to experience an epiphany and join the bandwagon late in the game are practically null.
After Stephen Malkmus put out his last record—the upbeat, Beck-produced Mirror Traffic—he moved from Portland to Berlin with his wife and daughters, settling down for a few years in a large English-speaking expatriate community in central Europe. The album that has emerged from that relocation, Wig Out At Jagbags, was recorded in a farmhouse near Amsterdam, with the change in scenery offering the possibility for more overt experimentation than Beck lightly nudging Malkmus toward a brighter, crisper sound. But despite the European setting, it’s largely more of the same from Malkmus in his post-Pavement period: a catchy, noodling collection, with a few keepers and no outright clunkers.
Since parting ways with Pavement in 1999, and subsequently reuniting on occasion, Stephen Malkmus has been one of indie rock’s most celebrated free spirits. His work with the Jicks has been especially loose and limber, proving Malkmus is more than the tightly wound frontman for one of the defining bands of 1990s alt-rock. On “Wig Out at Jagbags,” his sixth outing with the Jicks, it’s interesting to hear Malkmus reflect on growing older (he’s 47) as a family man (he’s married with two kids) with different concerns.
Stephen Malkmus — Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador)At this point, Stephen Malkmus has been apart from Pavement longer than he was a part of the seminal indie rock band. Wig Out at Jagbags is the sixth record in 13 years with his second-act backing band The Jicks. Pavement released five in 10 years, but its influence remains strong, and Malkmus is still the slacker-savant godfather of present-day buzz bands like Speedy Ortiz and Parquet Courts.And while nothing Malkmus has released post-Pavement has reached the distinguished heights he hit as indie rock’s valedictorian in the ’90s, he’s largely avoided the vulgar vagaries of his alt-rock peers.
"Oh no, it's another one of these... These guys need to try harder." "Yeah, try harder DAMNIT, TRY HARDER!" The infamous scene is of course taken from a Beavis & Butthead episode in which the sniggering pair wreak havoc over the video for Pavement's 'Rattled By The Rush'. Not Pavement's best single by any mark, not even close to the best song on 1995's 18-track Wowee Zowee album, 'Rattled', which could only have been considered a slacker 'anthem' by virtue of ensuring it wasn't one.