Stephen Malkmus keeps it weird on 'Wig Out at Jagbags'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
By the time the final song, “Surreal Teenagers,” is over, there’s a spinning sensation that has likely overtaken the listener. Through twists and shifts, there was so much going on in the music that there’s a near-tangible imprint made.
All this is to say Wigout at the Jagbags, the latest album from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, rocks. This is an album that can be broken down and analyzed, and just as easily, left to play on an infinite repeat somewhere, filling the air with its angular guitar passages and weirdo lyrics. There’s plenty to dive headfirst into, and it works just as well as delightful noise.
As with most of his work since leaving Pavement to work with the Jicks, Malkmus mixes tempos and effects, creating songs that work like swirling soundscapes that usually resolve themselves in less than four minutes. The opening “Planetary Motion” serves as a primer on what’s to come, with off-kilter vocals giving way to a mean guitar break and a killer little jam. And just past three minutes, it’s on to the next round of weirdness with “The Janitor Revealed.”
Malkmus operates in this lively setting throughout the record, and he’s reached a point where he's comfortable in his own skin but not afraid to spin the template around. On "J Smoov," he slows the tempo and recruits a trumpet to mirror the vocal and guitar lines, creating a dreamy effect. On “Lariat,” he declares that “you’re not what you aren’t/you aren’t what you’re not,” weaving different little lyrical couplets that all tie together as well as they would isolated, even finding time to have the singer declare his love of the ’80s, heralded as “the best decade ever.”
And on that front, he's also happy to poke a little fun at all the sub-genres that can become so unnecessarily weighty with too much thought. It's hard not to hear "Rumble at the Rainbo" as a dig at the kind of disastrous attempted reunions recently attempted by Greg Ginn's Black Flag, for example. "Chartjunk” follows, and it plays like an answer to those trying to live up to any abstract, zine-fueled ideals. It's fun and has a ripping solo, which are all trademarks of Malkmus' work in and out of the Jicks, and it all feels new.
That’s perhaps the most impressive feat of this record. Without consciously straying or adhering to any external expectations, Malkmus has been able to repeatedly deliver catchy, weird and ultimately satisfying albums with the Jicks. On Wig Out at Jagbags, he has 12 more songs that work together as well as they would alone, it’s decidedly him and it all sounds fresh.
And, of course, it all rocks. Fast or slow, weird or conventional, serious or funny, it’s ultimately all that matters. As self-aware and confidant as ever, Malkmus gets that.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org