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Album Review | Malkmus’ newest album off solo project is charming, human

Published: Friday, January 17, 2014

Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 02:01

At this point in his career, it seems like there is no stopping Stephen Malkmus. With five albums from his eponymous band already under his belt, it would be understandable if the 47-year-old musician decided to pack up his guitar and call it a day. Instead, he has pulled together yet another collection of loose, fun-loving tracks — and is traveling across the world to promote them. Malkmus isn’t concerned with expectations, and it is this nonchalance that makes his newest record both accessible and enjoyable. In an age where it is cool to not care, Malkmus excels at making his music human, which encourages the listener to feel a tangible connection to his songs — a connection that many indie artists have lost.

Most of the tracks on Malkmus’ latest release, “Wig Out at Jagbags,” feature memorable hooks and possess an endearing boyish charm that will remind listeners of Malkmus’s days as the frontman of the indie rock band Pavement. Indeed, ever since the group disbanded in 2000, Malkmus’ solo output has come to sound like a nostalgic exploration of Pavement’s golden days in the early to mid-90s. This similarity, although welcome among Malkmus’ more devoted fans, does not do much to help the appeal of his recent work.

After five albums, Malkmus still seems a bit lost in the past — his voice occasionally trails off mid-sentence, and his wistful melodies bring this nostalgia right out into the open. On tracks such as “Rumble at the Rainbo,” Malkmus’s lyrics display his reverence for years gone by — he barks out the lines, “Can you remember / the thrill and the rush / you’re not out of touch,” and “No one here has changed, and no one ever will.” These words suggest that Malkmus is trying to understand where he belongs in a musical arena dominated by youth. These are some of the only lines on the whole album where one can truly grasp the deeper meaning behind what Malkmus says — most of the other lyrics are stream of consciousness ramblings peppered with silliness and sarcasm.

This rambling, however, at times works to the songs’ advantage. Listeners will find themselves wanting to sing along to lines like, “I’ve been tripping my face off since breakfast / taking in this windswept afternoon,” which appears on the humorously titled number “Cinnamon and Lesbians.”

The humor in the song titles and lyrics adds to the overall carefree nature of the record and puts the listener at ease. Malkmus isn’t out to prove anything — he is making music simply because he likes it and will continue to do so regardless of whether his work is well received or not. This has always been his attitude and, while his past solo albums have sometimes possessed a certain sloppiness as a result, the songs on “Wig Out at Jagbags” are noticeably more tight and cleaned up than his pieces from previous records. Tracks such as “Lariat,” “Houston Hades” and “Cinnamon and Lesbians” all possess distinct, catchy melodies, clearly structured verses and intricate guitar work that is engaging without being overly complex.

The high quality of the songs is owed largely in part to Malkmus’ bandmates, whose instrumental support provides the album with a strong foundation. Jake Morris’ drumming keeps the record churning along at a constant pace, ensuring that the tracks don’t fall into the trap of laziness, as indie music often does. Guided by Malkmus’ steady hand and a general sense that growing old doesn’t mean you can’t use the same tricks that you did during your earlier years, “Wig Out at Jagbags” succeeds in transporting its listeners to a place where stress is forgotten and the 90s are still alive and kicking.

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