At six albums and thirteen years Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks have bested Pavement in both the longevity and productivity stakes. It’s an impressive musical legacy that Malkmus has left behind him since the early ’90’s, through Pavement’s peerless discography and his tenure with the equally sublime Silver Jews. This latest release displays no signs that the sharp wit that typifies all Malkmus’ bands has abated in a record that, while not straying far from his style, is certainly that bit more joyous and playful than The Jicks’ last effort.
Janet Weiss, having relinquished drum-stool duties to join Wild Flag after 2011’s ‘Mirror Traffic’, is replaced here by ex-Joggers sticksman Jake Morris for the half-hippy leaning/half-nonsensically-titled ‘Wig Out at Jagbags’. As the title may suggest, it’s the sound of a band having fun with the material, from the Dexy’s-like intro horns of Chartjunk and those gentle funk soul punches of J Smoov, to Surreal Teenager’s flight of psychedelia that bypasses Malkmus’ own traditional lengthy guitar wigouts and harks straight back to Barrett-era Floyd.
Malkmus can still casually toss out an all-encompassing, universally-relatable, open-ended lyric like Lariat’s “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever” – all nicely wrapped up and delivered in a catchy melody – and barely glance back before he’s off to the next abstract turn of phrase. In the main, though, it’s an album of sunny optimism – “I’ve been tripping my face off since breakfast/Taking in this windswept afternoon” – as Malkmus and Co enjoy the ride.
Houston Hades’ intro sounds like a traditional rollicking sign off, here flipped and placed at the start of the song…from chaos it springs. Rumble At The Rainbo throws in a cod-reggae breakdown, generally unforgivable but here with tongue-in-cheek (“No emo posing or that straight edge fluff”); the song literally breaks down off the back of it, but that’s no more than it deserves. Then there’s the aforementioned Chartjunk – Malkmus does pub rock, or at least whatever the Portland version of that is.
‘Wig Out…’, like its predecessor ‘Mirror Traffic’ three years ago, is a much tighter work than those previous. While ‘Real Emotional Trash’ proved a highpoint in The Jicks’ catalogue, this latest eschews the extended workouts that raised their heads on that release and Malkmus’ earlier albums. Despite what its title might suggest, ‘Wigout…’ is a more straight-to-the-point affair. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing (we quite like Malkmus’ fret-wandering), that’s just the way it is. With this record – leaner in execution, laconic in delivery but still as laid-back as ever – Malkmus and The Jicks have hit that highpoint once more.