ALBUM REVIEW: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags

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Artist /// Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Album /// Wig Out at Jagbags

Label /// Matador

Release Date /// 7 January 2014

6.2 | 10

Stephen Malkmus became a cult hero in the independent music realm courtesy of the undeniable resonance of his work with 90s rock band Pavement. The band’s 2010 reunion led some to hope for a new album from the group, but leave it to Malkmus to continue to play by his own set of rules. Wig Out at Jagbags follows in the footsteps of his 2011 album with the Jicks, Mirror Traffic, and isn’t so much a step backwards as it is a frustrating sideways shuffle that only hints at what has made Malkmus such an endearing figure to so many.

You get the feeling while listening to Jagbags that some of the ideas being floated around on the record could have stayed on the cutting room floor. “Scattegories” in particular is an egregious addition, with lyrical content that would even puzzle Anthony Kiedis. But instead of sounding humorous, it comes across as someone trying a little too hard. And that goes against everything Malkmus has stood for in his illustrious career.

There are fleeting moments of unforced musical brilliance, such as during the waning moments “Houston Hades.” It’s simple enough, with Malkmus and company singing “Turnin’ away” again and again, but it sounds undeniably vital. The way he sings, “I don’t have the stomach for your brandy / I can hardly sip your tea” during “Independence Street” is a refreshing deviation from the album’s norm, and the rhythm of “Cinnamon and Lesbians” is both adventurous and domesticated.

Wig Out at Jagbags is ultimately held back by the same things that have worked for Malkmus in the past. His lyricism has always been rooted in unconventional stories and structures, but on Jagbags he plays too much into his conventional image. He’s had such success with his style of music that it’s hard to fault him for staying in the niche he carved out for himself over the years. But when you finally start to relax, you can’t be shocked to see the rest of the world pass you up.

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