Stephen Malkmus turns 48 in May. This means that he is in no way new to the process of writing, recording, and releasing an album. His first band, Pavement, released their debut album Slanted and Enchanted in 1992, an album that immediately put them at the forefront of the early 1990’s indie rock scene. Since that time Stephen Malkmus, has released so many critically acclaimed albums under numerous pseudonyms that he has earned his place on the Mount Rushmore of indie stars. Part of this is not only because of his early success but his ability to maintain relevance in a genre that is so often concerned with the next big thing.
The release of Wig Out and Jagbags marks Malkmus’ sixth album with The Jicks. This is somewhat of a milestone because it means that he has now released more studio albums with the Jicks than he had with his two previous bands, Silver Jews and Pavement. As I mentioned earlier, longevity is often as impressive as any one single song or even album. Anyone can get lucky once or twice, the key to lasting is consistency. Consistency is exactly what comes to mind when listening to Wig Out and Jagbags. Many records, even great ones, can often have a lull where it seems that the artist could have revised or even removed one or two of the songs. Wig Out and Jagbags contains no such lull. From the opening track “Planetary Motion” to its finale “Surreal Teenager” the record will have a listener compelled throughout.
Malkmus is no longer a young man in the rock world, as evidenced by the single “Lariat” in which he speaks of the 80’s with longing, stating matter-of-factly “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever”. Although this may come off as corny nostalgia if sung by some bands, Malkmus and The Jicks are able take this theme and keep it fresh and interesting. Another highpoint of the album comes later with what feels like a Dylan inspired track, “Independence Street”, on which he reveals such short coming as, “I don’t have the stomach for your brandy” and “I don’t have the teeth left for your candy”, another possible age reference.
Another skill that has led to Malkmus’ success throughout the years is his ability to keep albums from sounding too similar throughout. On “J Smoov” the band is able to deviate from the more punk inspired songs on the record and mark the midpoint of the album with what feels like an intermission of sorts. The track is highlighted by a beautifully played trumpet, which underlies almost the entire song giving it a cocktail longue kind of feeling. Don’t expect this to last long though as the next track, a under two minute jam titled “Rumble at the Rainbo”, jumps right back into the rock as is expressed in the opening lyrics, “Come and join us in this punk rock tomb, come slam dancing with some ancient dudes, we are returning, returning to our roots”. This is Malkmus and The Jicks saying that although they may be long in the teeth, they have plenty of rocking left to do.