Riding the wave of a late-career revival, Stephen Malkmus returns to jam with the Jicks again following 2011’s return to form with the fuzzy yet fresh ‘Mirror Traffic’. ‘Wig Out at Jagbags’ is a particularly notable release as it sees the Jicks discography overtake the number of releases made by Pavement. This reality is exhibited in the sound of this record as it sounds distinctively ‘Jicks’ rather than like the sound of a man desperately clinging on to his youth and former identity. Like previous records, this album employs a formula of tempo-twitching experimental rock jams to encompass Malkmus’ goofy pun-laden tales inspired by (in his own words) ‘inactivity’, ‘jamming’ and of course ‘Pavement’. In addition to these archetypical Malkmus pursuits, the alt-icon also cites German influences from his ‘home life in the 2010s’ living in Berlin. These inspirations range from the work of contemporary artist Rosemarie Trockel to the relatively low-key electropunk outfit Von Spar who featured on Stephen Malkmus’ replication of ‘Can’s Ege Bamyasi’, the 1972 record that at one point aided Malkmus’ snoozes as an alternative sedative for three years straight.
In a recent interview, the lead man provided a succinct analysis of today’s indie scene reflecting on how times have changed during his involvement in music. He acknowledged the malleability of the genre, noting that musically the scene sounds cleaner today compared to how it did in the 90s. However, he also concedes that the music that proliferated in the 90s was in some ways more ‘idealistic and innocent’ in comparison to the ‘mainstream indie trends of today’. With this summary, he essentially provides us with the ethos of his latest effort. It’s a record that hosts a much cleaner sound but strives to maintain an innocence which is grounded in the colloquial and bizarre lyricism that Malkmus is renowned for.
Lead single ‘Lariat’ is representative of the ‘WOAJ’ sound with its irresistibly twangy riff that jangles away hand in hand with a joyful piano accompaniment. Lyrically, this track acts as a trip down memory lane as Malkmus’ fondly recalls his days at the University of Virginia spent flickering through the works of Tennyson on a diet of venison and stoner soundtrack staples such as The Grateful Dead, Sun City Kids, Mudhoney and Bongwater. This tale is told in almost a conversational prose for the most part before it meets an instrumental crescendo dominated by sweetly executed guitar licks and heavily pounded piano keys. On the uniquely poetic track ‘Cinnamon and Lesbians’, Malkmus demonstrates that these strands of youthful ebullience remain intact as he barks about tripping his face off since breakfast.
Although these moments are characterised by nostalgia, the record is not solely defined by anecdotes of his impulsive youth. Fortunately, here is a man that has aged gracefully and on the soulful ‘Independence Street’ he confesses “I don’t have the stomach for your brandy/I can hardly sip your tea” after an introduction dictated by a stadium friendly reverb-filled guitar melody. This maturity has proved only beneficial for the record as it also beams through on other tracks like ’Houston Hades’. The punk-infused clatter of the introduction collides with the eardrum before abandoning all signs of cynicism and replacing them with a heavenly blues-infused jam coated with joyful vocal ‘doos’. These elements amalgamate until the track climaxes with an uplifting organ section that will have even the most disenchanted folk grinning.
For the most part, ‘WOAJ’ is defined by these moments of euphoric highs and thankfully these are contrasted by very few lows. Perhaps the biggest downfall on the record comes in the form of ‘Scattegories’, a track which I couldn’t help but summarise in my notes as ‘slacker rock at its blandest’. Yet despite this minor blip, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks have evidently discovered a refreshing new found depth that we get to hear properly for the first time on this LP. By combining the raw energy of previous musical ventures with an increased awareness of clean and crisp melodies, Malkmus has augmented his status further as a bonafide indie luminary.
Words: George Hemmati