Where to start with... Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
If Stephen Malkmus were to walk past you in the street, chances are you probably wouldn’t recognise him. On the one hand, this is an injustice: since the early 1990s he has been one of the most influential figures in underground indie / alt-rock, firstly as a founding member of California slackers Pavement, then with his ‘solo’ career as frontman of his band The Jicks. On the other hand, however, you get the impression that Malkmus prefers it this way.
Pavement were one of those bands whose far-reaching influence was never matched by the kind of commercial success they perhaps deserved, but that never really seemed a priority. Several opportunities to sign with major labels were rejected in favour of smaller, independent labels more in keeping with the band’s lo-fi, punk rock ethos, and Malkmus has continued this approach with The Jicks, originally planning to self-release all their material before eventually agreeing to sign with Matador.
Although he has been steadily releasing material with his new band since 2001, his under-the-radar approach meant that when 2011’s Mirror Traffic started getting a fair amount of radio airplay, it felt kind of like a comeback album, with Malkmus hitting his best songwriting form in recent memory. In-store now, Wig Out at Jagbags, the band’s sixth studio album, is a continuation of this form, with highlights including ‘Lariat’ and leadoff single ‘Cinnamon and Lesbians’.
The album was self-produced and recorded in Amsterdam with Malkmus working alongside Remko Schouten and is the first to feature new drummer Jake Morris, replacing the outgoing Janet Weiss, who left after the recording of the band's last album to join Wild Flag. The record even features Malkmus’ next-door neighbour and Travis frontman Fran Healy, who provides backing vocals on some of the tracks.
Malkmus fans will enjoy the record for sure, but for those who are less familiar with his output we’ve put together five career highlights from one of America’s most idiosyncratic songwriters to get you started:
(from Brighten the Corners)
If you only know one song by Pavement, it’s probably this. Taken from their album Brighten the Corners, the song features Malkmus’ rambling, stream-of-consciousness lyrics before giving way to a shout-along chorus that sums up the band’s attitude to the trappings of fame. An anthem for the slacker generation if ever there was one.
'Cut Your Hair'
(from Crooked Rain Crooked Rain)
One of Pavement’s rare commercial hits, Malkmus sends up the attitudes of other musicians on this track with lyrics that showcase the songwriter at his biting, sarcastic best: (I don’t remember a line / I don’t remember a word / But I don’t care… / Did you see the drummer’s hair?).
(from Stephen Malkmus)
Possibly the highlight of his eponymous solo debut following Pavement’s split in 1999, the opening narration offers clues to his relief at having left the band. The fact that he’s enjoying himself again is as evident on this track as anywhere on the record.
(from Mirror Traffic)
One of the best moments on Mirror Traffic, Malkmus simultaneously lampoons America’s political system and shows he has lost none of his sense of humour. An added bonus is the radio edit of this song for the single release, which introduced the word ‘snowjob’ to or collective vocabulary.