Irrespective of perception, Stockton, California slackers Pavement will forever be revered as a fundamental, indeed immutable cornerstone of the soi-disant lo-fi stylisation. And although imitated ad infinitum, most notably during this past decade, none have ever managed to so effortlessly render languor in such inspiriting song as Stephen Malkmus.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, meanwhile, have always proven a rather more erratic, at times perhaps even mildly erotic proposition by contrast. “Onward, ya Christian sailors/ You smooth-talking, jack-off jailers” he’ll proclaim of Cinnamon And Lesbians, slippery licks and woozy slide guitars slooshing aqueously about his every, strangely lascivious, word. J Smoov, meanwhile, proves just that as Malkmus et al. provide a superlative Motown redux that’s subtle as an eel in oil. “I can’t afford to want you, still I can’t avoid your place” he’ll croon somewhat vulnerably come its languid opening strains, telling of intimate thoughts that “creep into my organisation” with dulcet irritation. It’s a quite radical deviation from the scrappy MO for which he’s now been known for what feel aeons, and yet it’s no less insouciant than, say, a Shady Lane that’s now however many years its senior.
Moreover, if Pavement were frequently deemed omnipotent curators of a toker’s indispensable soundtrack, then the dub-inflected outro to conclude the ensuing Rumble at the Rainbo serves as a subliminal reassertion of Malkmus’ abiding stoner credentials. The song begins with a yodelled dedication, “This one’s for you, granddad!”, before its author babbles some oddly adorable, rudimentary rhymes. “Come and join us in this punk-rock tomb/ Come slam dancing with some ancient dudes/ We are returning, returning to our roots/ No new material; just cowboy boots” he begins, his vocal an imitation of adolescent abandon resonating with real conviction. Come its chorus, he’ll chime: “No one here has changed, and no one ever will” and yet despite there being resolute parallels aligning Wig Out at Jagbags with Malkmus’ nigh on every previous, not only are the twelve tracks contained within new, but they’re remarkably novel as well. And so, despite Malkmus’ lyricisms making him out to seem decidedly juvenile for the most part – or “lean and hungry, ready to spring” to cite the superbly lax The Janitor Revealed, the Stocktonian now sounds unworldly and world-weary quite simultaneously. And the result is irrefutably lissom a listen. In short, this is the sound of an ever-mellowing indie rocker “with a new haircut.” And, without question, he this time carves out some pretty impressive cuts himself.
Lyrically, if Lariat may sound purposefully retrograde and enervated, yet still gently contented (“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever” he’ll defiantly affirm, having previously confessed to living off “Tennyson, and venison, and the Grateful Dead” during said period), then musically it’s ebullient as Watery, Domestic, if not more so. And having been wired up to what felt an interminable BBC Radio 6 Music loop throughout the festive season, it feels undeniably definitive already.
Smooth and slimy as Independence Street is spacey, Malkmus showing signs of wear and tear with the assertion that “I don’t have the stomach for your brandy, I can hardly sip your tea/ I don’t have the teeth left for your candy, I’m just busy being free”, this album is as much a faithful reflection of Malkmus’ youth as it is an uninhibited testament to his contemporary relevance. And that, on this evidence, can’t yet be questioned. It’s in the runaway euphoria of Chartjunk that’s equal parts brassy and barbershop; the guttural, bassy gurgles that curdle beneath Malkmus’ baritonal delivery during the Sebadoh-esque Shibboleth; the soulful revival that is Houston Hades, which evidences that he’s not merely among the most eminent manipulators of melody, but so too a mighty fine crooner in his own right.
In Surreal Teenagers, however, we receive an untimely reminder of a lyrical erraticism that niggles away at his every work, as he rhymes “penguin pool” with his admiration for “the way that you drool” over a splendid raclette in St. Moritz, before musing: “I’d like to move to Micronesia with my man, surfing John” within the space of several minutes. Nonetheless, a lone dud, this wayward of Montreal parody is thus the anomaly, rather than the rule. Consider it the Senator of Wig Out at Jagbags, if you will. And don’t spare it a second thought thereafter. Concentrate instead on the fact that, having switched allegiance to this time saddle up alongside Laurence Bell and all at Domino, there’s such carefree joie de vivre alive and well within this particular recording that you almost sense that, as suggested during the aforesaid Chartjunk, Malkmus no longer feels “contractually obliged to care!” And he’s all the better for that, with this ranking right up there among his very best. For 2014 now has its very first essential listen.
Released: January 6th, 2014 [Domino]