Although it seems inappropriate to use a word like 'legend' to describe a man who has been actively dismissive of any mainstream acceptance for over 20 years now, there is a strong case to be made that Stephen Malkmus is one. Whether with Pavement, Silver Jews or, as he is now, with his Jicks in tow, nobody quite sounds like Malkmus and that is once more the case on his sixth album with the Jicks, 'Wig Out at Jag Bags'.
Over the course of his solo career, Stephen Malkmus has experimented with two fairly distinct styles; either wading through lengthy, wailing, psychedelic guitar freak-outs or putting in solid, quirky pop turns. 'Wig Out at Jag Bags' focuses more on the latter sound, but there does seem to be a little more crossover between the flavours than on previous releases, most notably on the album's opening number 'Planetary Motion', which has jam band tendencies condensed inside a three minute pop song which shifts effortlessly between staccato and smooth vibes, with a great deal of that trademark guitar noodling in between.
There is a lot of Malkmus weirdness going on in 'Wig Out at Jag Bags', such as the dissonant, rumbling 'Shibboleth' and the all-out attack that is 'Chartjunk' which culminates in a breath taking guitar solo. You cannot really talk about a Stephen Malkmus album without mentioning the lyrics and there are plenty of classic couplets on offer here, including the rhyming of "Hades" with "Slim Shadies", but the real magic here is in the music.
Recent single 'Lariat' would stand up next to any of the Pavement classics. It treads the line between cheerful and melancholy on a bed of perfect musicianship. 'Houston Hades' starts with a fan fare of guitars before settling back down to some beautiful interplay between guitars and pianos and 'The Janitor Revealed' might just be the best song in the Malkmus catalogue. Perhaps one of the album's most surprisingly pleasant moments comes in the form of J Smoov, perhaps the most mellow song on the album, if not the entire planet. Even the horn solo sounds dazed and hazy.
If you are not already a Malkmus convert, 'Wig Out at Jag Bags' probably won't turn you but, for the initiated, this album is yet another worthy addition to an already impressive catalogue. Who needs Pavement anyway?
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