Malkmus has officially extended his solo efforts with his backing band longer than his more famous effort, Pavement. This doesn’t particularly come to mind while listening to their sixth album in fourteen years since the mega-popular indie band’s fall-out, but it certainly does come to mind when thinking about Malkmus in general. The idiosyncratic lyricist/guitarist is now 47 years old, living in Berlin and having a grand ol’ time on Wig Out At Jagbags (jagbag is a term used by Chicagoans to point out the politicians talking nonsense – always? / sports fans talking trash). Jagbags follows Mirror Traffic, their 2011 effort produced by Beck – yes, that Beck, which was a modest critical success. At no point has Malkmus showed signs of losing sight – he’s still creating fantastically interesting music.
Anyone who’s heard Pavement before in their lives will find safe havens to nest in on this album. If you’ve never explored a Malkmus solo album, this one certainly isn’t a bad place to start, but you may be turned off by the looseness. With this album, songs just sound so seamless and free, rather than impactful or thought-provoking. And that’s completely fine – either way, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks still maintain a nice tone throughout, even if it means they aren’t the most impressive tunes from start-to-finish. This album isn’t made to grab you and shake you, like The Knife or even Kanye’s inescapable latest. But what Jagbags manages to do is give you a selection of tunes you’ll enjoy, even if it is just until the next Malkmus album. Because even if Malkmus was once the Pavement frontman, those days are long gone. “I’m just busy being free,” Malkmus says on “Independence Street,” a jaunty slow dance.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ “Lariat”
You’ll get a lot of fun tunes throughout Jagbags. Lead single “Lariat” is a jangly, saccharine tune that has Malkmus proclaiming “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever” in the song’s waning moments. It’s a song that doesn’t surprise or contradict – it’s a simple tune and it does its fill for the three minute it lasts. In many ways, “Lariat” explains the whole album in one song. Jagbags isn’t wildly inventive. It doesn’t break new ground. It welcomes a new selection of tunes that pretty much sound very similar to the rest of Malkmus’ entire solo career, and it manages to feel good, never stale. It’s Malkmus – 47 and relaxing.
So, the highlights? “Planetary Motion” pounds away, starting off the album in a memorable way. There’s a few sections of quasi-psychedelic spaces of guitar work after each verse – the middle of the song extends into a semi-spellbinding guitar exploration. Malkmus does find time to play with your heart and toy around with some highly Pavement-esque bits that frenetically put you back in 1997, listening to Brighten The Corners. Piano-tapper “Houston Hades” encapsulates the best moments on this album, even if it is one of the more off-beat tracks on Jagbags. Malkmus really shines, having a blast in the chorus and keeping that freewheelin’ vibe alive. Last two tracks “Cinnamon and Lesbians” (which has probably the funniest music video in a while) and “Surreal Teenagers” sum everything up and put a nice bow on the album’s entire length, especially the later’s tenacious outro.
Wig Out At Jagbags shows Malkmus doing his thing and not walking away. He’s having fun doing it, too, and it shows throughout. It’s an ideal album for Malkmus, and it illustrates a perfect snapshot of his career at this point. Stephen Malkmus is no longer the ex-frontman of Pavement, and that entire legacy is past and done. Buried. Malkmus has, especially with the success of Jagbags, done enough to solidify him as a solo artist, not in the shadow of a past band He’ll never elude it, but he certainly has proved to anyone listening to his records that he is a fantastic songwriter and a irreplaceable figure.
Written by Dylan Tracy
OurVinyl | Contributor