Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Wig Out At Jagbags Album Review
Matador Records/Domino Records
Released January 7, 2014
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Thom Yorke never made it out of the cave of electronic music that he and his band Radiohead settled in with the release of 2000′s centennial Kid A. He released a debut riddled with odd samples and artificial drum machines and toured with his other band, Atoms for Peace,who improvised IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) compositions along with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and numerous Radiohead producers.
Much like Yorke, guitarist Jack White also never left the garage rock phase of his music. In the Dead Weather, The White Stripes and The Ranconteurs, White’s garage rock influence remained, evident on his 2012 solo debut, Blunderbuss. What White and Yorke both demonstrate is that it’s hard for an artist to leave a style that he/she has worked so effortlessly on. They just keep rehashing a certain style that’s been done before but with better compositions and techniques, just to shake things up a bit. Artists like Yorke and White who jump from band to band need to try new techniques with each act to prove that they are well-rounded musicians. Take Stephen Malkmus, for instance.
Stephen Malkmus’ first band, Pavement, a lo-fi/indie rock outfit band that developed a cult following in its later years, showcased Malkmus as a guitarist with ambition and rock star prowess. Shifting gears upon the disintegration of Pavement, Malkmus took an alternative country/indie folk turn that, once more, showcased his ability as a musician with his solo act. With his backup band, The Jicks, Malkmus again delivers a different style that results in psychedelic rock/ indie rock tunes that are reminiscent of their label mates, Of Montreal.
Like any psychedelic rock albums, there’s riffs, lots of them. Take the opener, “Planetary Motion”, for instance: drums and bass chop up the beat as Malkmus wails away before thundering it with heavy distorted riffs reminiscent of those found on the last Queens of the Stone Age album. Malkmus does, however, have a very Kevin Barnes-y tone of voice, giving it a very familiar if not rewarding sound. But these tunes aren’t rock imitations, they’re flashes of scarce ingenuity. Malkmus is 47, and most people his age begin to wind down.
Now Malkmus hasn’t washed up just yet. There are a few bright spots on this album, most notably the song structures. “The Janitor Revealed” takes some interesting passages as it switches up from driving rock to soft rock, like transitions between two tracks in the same key. The heavy intro of “Houston Hades” shows that Malkmus still has some juice left in him, even at his AARP card eligible age. Now the mantra of psychedelic rock does pop out every now and then, take the bass on “Shibboleth” for instance, or the Kurt Vile/jazz influenced “J Smoov”, a very smooth track that has the familiar Malkmus croon brought out, a good throwback for fans along with some trumpet solos.
Where Wig Out At Jag Bags fails is the memorability and distinction. Now Malkmus isn’t one to produce a catchy hook, I’ll give him that. Rather, he focuses more on the vibe that he gives off, but there isn’t much to remember from this album . Perhaps age has got the better of Malkmus? I mean, if you’re willing to deliver an intro verse, much like the one in “Rumble At The Rainbo” to “throwback” to the golden age, then you’re becoming wistful of the past. But this song takes many turns: from noise rock to indie pop to disfigured ska (like Sublime). But teary eyes do begin to show here.
Malkmus isn’t just looking back at his past; it’s the past of music that he so dearly loved. The soulful spirit of “Chartjunk” starts the power of this album up again as it brings Queen influenced vocals. But along with many throwbacks to oldies comes an apparent message; much like Jake Bugg’s coming of age 2013 debut, Malkmus too is concerned with aging. Take “Independence Street,” for instance, where he can neither drink down brandy or tea, feeling neutral of youth and adulthood. But when you’ve had a momentous start in the music industry like Malkmus, then feeling wary of age is something that you should always be anxious of. The golden age is hard to leave behind.
I’m not implying that Malkmus is going to grow old and wither away or become sloppy with his music. I’m just saying that if Malkmus is entering the age where his graduation goggles are kicking in, then at least he should go out with a bang. This album is the tease that Malkmus brings with every project he does. Will he resurrect the beauty and distinct sound of Pavement? Maybe. Maybe not. At 47, age comes with its perks. It’s that time when adults are either sarcastic or serious, wanting to either bandwagon with the youth or warn them. However it’s also the time where ends become visible and the only way to deal with their convergence is to, like Malkmus sings on “Independence Street”, be “busy being free”.
FAV TRACKS: Planetary Motion, The Janitor Revealed, Lariat, J Smoov, Chartjunk, Independence Street, Cinnamon and Lesbians
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Shibboleth