Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’

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Four long years after their last release, the deliciously titled “Wig Out at Jagbags”, Stephen Malkmus and his balmy Jicks Band return with an equally delicious follow-up. Spread across 11 tracks, the former Pavement frontman meditates on a changing world by changing with it, leaning on newer toys like an Auto-Tune and Mellotron. He even gets political without all the gimmicky trappings that traditionally come with being an aging white rocker trying to stand on a soapbox.

Why It Rules:For all those reasons and more, Malkmus arrives in top form on Sparkle Hard, sounding like a bona fide bard of his generation. Make no mistake, he still knows how to get silly, but it’s the type of silly one might attribute to whimsically clever authors like Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. Songs like “Bike Lane”, “Kite”, and especially “Shiggy” prove he still has his eye on the stage while deeper cuts like “Solid Silk” and “Middle America” hint that he’d just as happily stroll around the neighborhood. “Bike Lane” is a high point on one of Malkmus’ strongest albums, which puts it in rare company indeed.

Stephen Malkmus  is known for an easygoing air on songs full of jangling guitars and wandering subject matter, a reputation he undercuts with savage social commentary on the tightly focused “Bike Lane.” The song, from Sparkle Hard, his latest with the Jicks, skewers misplaced cultural priorities as he juxtaposes an observational, mild-mannered refrain—“Another beautiful bike lane”—with a brutally casual recounting of how a young black man named Freddie Gray died at the hands of Baltimore police officers in 2015. It’s bracing, as Malkmus offers sarcastic sympathy for the cops, and also irresistibly catchy, with a propulsive beat, squiggles of keyboards and an off-kilter guitar workout.

“I will not be one of the watchers/I will not disappear,” Stephen Malkmus sings on “Middle America,” one the best songs from his seventh solo album. an ambling rumination on growing older, featuring a probable allusion to the #MeToo movement: “Men are scum, I won’t deny.” Malkmus continues to mix it up with spacey vocoder-enhanced vocals on prog-jam “Rattler” The elder indie statesman doesn’t have much to prove (as if he ever sang like someone who did) but he and his band aren’t resting on laurels here. Riffing on sunshiny pop, country balladry — with Kim Gordon in tow! — prog workouts, and extended jams equally indebted to the Dead and Neu!, Malkmus gets in where he fits in. Clever as ever but warmer, too.

I hear echoes of the Pavement song “Greenlander” in “Middle America” – not enough that they’re extremely similar on a structural level, but close enough in tone that they share a particular shade of melancholy and evoke a frigid and empty landscape. In lyrical terms they’re from very different ends of a lifespan. “Greenlander” confronts a very youthful sort of awkwardness and regret, with the line “everything I did was right, everything I said was wrong / now I’m waiting for the night to bring me dawn” standing out as one of the young Malkmus’ more straightforward and poignant moments. “Middle America” is more like a collection of wise thoughts and observations, but presented in a humble and low-key way. There’s some good advice in the song but the emotional power of it lies more in the bits where he seems far less certain of himself or anything else. There’s something in the way he sings the “in the winter time” hook that conveys a sweet vulnerability and vague doubt that actually makes him come across as a stronger and more reliable person.

As the frontman of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus recorded some of the most influential, indie genre–defining albums of the twentieth century. For better or worse, it’s work all of his subsequent productions will be measured against, even though he’s been recording solo for nearly twenty years now. Sparkle Hard, his seventh solo album, stands firmly with one foot in the past and the other in the present. An “if it ain’t broke, why fix it” mentality lends a well-worn familiarity, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing around with our expectations a little. Kim Gordon cameo on the stripped-down, twangy, tongue-in-cheek “Refute.” All the while, he retains his signature effortlessness, stepping back when things start to get too serious.

Maybe that’s why this album feels so aptly timed. We’re within the midst of a nostalgia boom for bands that defined the ’90s, while current mainstream rock seems to take itself more and more seriously, panicking that the genre is on the decline despite a new class of young, wry indie artists nipping at their heels (many of whom seem to have studied at the School of Malkmus Wit). We needed a new record from Stephen Malkmus to remind us that rock isn’t dead.

From the new album ‘Traditional Techniques’ by Stephen Malkmus

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Although their existence was short lived, the arrival of Wild Flag in 2011 was a majorly exciting moment for Sleater-Kinney fans.

By then, the blazingly great Portland trio had been on hiatus for five years, leaving a crater-sized hole in indie rock behind. Wild Flag arrived as a super powered blast of fresh female energy from four women with a long friendship and a fiery chemistry.

Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss were joined by Mary Timony of Helium (and currently Ex-Hex) and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. They’re all players with impeccable pedigrees in underground rock, but their sum was much more than their parts. Together they created an exuberant album filled with charged, bouncy rock’n’roll missiles, equal parts punk and pop and classic rock.

With Timony and Brownstein sharing vocal duties, and Rebecca Cole’s new wavey keyboards, there was plenty of fresh ingredients in Wild Flag’s sound to both excite Sleater-Kinney devotees, while establishing Wild Flag as a force to be reckoned with on their own terms.

Official video for “Romance” by Wild Flag, taken from their self-titled debut, out on Merge Records.

Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Helium), Rebecca Cole (The Minders), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks)

Modesty and plain good manners might prevent them from saying so themselves, but the fact that Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks have thrived, rather than simply endured over 17 years and delivered six albums of buzzy, sub-cultural significance, constitutes an impressive legacy. The challenge with album number seven is one that any successful band with integrity faces: how to safeguard that legacy and hold on to their identity without rehashing old ground (unthinkable), and also say something meaningful while (crucially) having fun doing it? Meeting that issue head on in the run up to The Jicks’ seventh record involved some “navel gazing”, according to singer, songwriter, and guitarist Malkmus and not only in terms of what it means to be releasing music in 2018. If, like him, you’re a voracious consumer of all kinds of culture and feel the need to interact with it, rather than just react, then inevitably “there’s a world that prompts you to put your best foot forward”. With Sparkle Hard Malkmus, Mike Clark (keyboards), Joanna Bolme (bass) and Jake Morris (drums) do exactly that. And they hit the ground running – on air treads.

The former Pavement frontman offers up a collection of simultaneously effortless and intricate songs, reaffirming his ability to write hook-heavy indie rock, and throwing in a few new tricks (vocoder!) along the way. Between a fiddle-fueled duet with Kim Gordon (“Refute”), a chugging rumination on police brutality (“Bike Lane”), and gloaming guitar riffs (“Shiggy,” “Future Suite”), Sparkle Hardis Malkmus’s finest offering with the Jicks so far. And in addition to his melodic triumphs, Malkmus hasn’t lost any of his verbal wit since his last album, 2014’s Wig Out at Jagbags. “You know you should be blushin’ / To a hue of Robitussin” he sings on “Middle America,” while on “Solid Silk,” Malkmus observes that a working man will “Never see the butter side of his daily bread.” Overall, Sparkle Hardis a landmark offering from one of rock and roll’s most enduring figures.