Stephen Malkmus wigs out in familiar territory

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If any sort of declarative statement about the life and works of Stephen Malkmus could be made, it’s that he almost certainly does not give a rat’s ass about what you think of his life, his works, or any combination thereof. So, it was when he was the merry prankster helming ’90s indie legends Pavement, and so it is as the frontman and principal songwriter of the Jicks. Heedless of fans and critics alike, the man moves at his own pace and continues to make the music he wants to make.

The impeccably titled Wig Out At Jagbags follows in this tradition, but thankfully offers some startling and intriguing revelations at the same time. Typically, the Jicks records (such as 2003’s Pig Lib and 2008’s Real Emotional Trash) exude a silly freedom, lyrically and musically, that’s representative of the aloofness Malkmus appears to feel after being released from the weight of his previous band. But on Jagbags, we get bits and pieces of more cerebral self-awareness, a more honest articulation of this feeling. “You aren’t what you’re not/You got what you want,” he muses on “Lariat,” in front of up-tempo, jangly guitars, and fluid percussion, the latter of which is provided by new member Jake Morris.

That said, anyone expecting a radical departure from previous albums is sure to be disappointed. The attention to clean production and experimental arrangement are still present, as they were on 2012’s Mirror Traffic, an album so similar in sound to Jagbags that you could probably mix together their tracklists without noticing. One such song, album opener “Planetary Motion,” isn’t saved from mediocrity by either its siren-like riffs or its stoned, pseudo-intellectual ramblings. Similarly, the forceful plod of “Scattegories” makes a track just under two minutes feel like a lifetime.

Despite these moments of the mundane, one can’t help but come away from the album happier than before. The reason for this of course, is that Malkmus himself is happier than before: at 47, married and with kids, living in Berlin, the musician seems to be finally comfortable with himself and with his art. His croons on “J Smoov,” playing off a soulful trombone accompaniment, are reminiscent of the slow, lo-fi jams of Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. However, instead of coming from a youth struggling to find his lyrical voice, they come from a man who is sure of himself and satisfied with the life he has created for himself. Wig Out At Jagbags is not a particularly demanding listen, but it can be a rewarding one, provided you’re still interested in what Malkmus has to say. Even if he isn’t particularly interested in what anyone else does. Three out of five.

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