REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Ex-Pavement mainman Stephen Malkmus brings on the trumpets as he wigs out with the Jicks

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

Continuing where 2011’s Beck-produced Mirror Traffic left off, ‘Wig Out At Jagbags’ is the sound of the slacker king at his goofiest best and as a result, his most eclectic in years


Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wig Out At Jagbags (OUT 6TH JANUARY)

  When Malkmus sings on
‘Wig Out At Jagbags’ unabashedly poppy first single
“we grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever” my mind elects to skip over whatever he’s referring to
(“I’m talkin’ ‘bout the ADDs” eh?) and instead transplants me into the early 90s and my own formative years which were defined in no small part by his former band
Pavement and their wonkily superlative brand of slacker alt-rock. Across the course of the band’s five albums there was nary a misstep and the opening run of 1992’s ‘
Slanted And Enchanted’ and 1994’s
‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ in particular will remain forever etched into my synapses as just about as perfect as an album can be. Calling it a day on the moderately diminishing returns of 1999’s
‘Terror Twilight’ where the major leagues came-a-calling in the guise of Nigel Godrich on production duties and a slight dulling of their lackadaisical charm in transition, Malkmus has ploughed a solo furrow since 2001 with a shifting line-up of Jicks in support. On this his sixth solo release he has now surpassed his former band’s entire album-proper output. It’s fair to say that the preceding five have been somewhat hit and miss, fluctuating between two sides of a coin with tongue-in-cheek melodic pop and balladeering on one flip and noodling proggy guitar solos on the other. At times he’s given
Pavement a run for their money (notably 2001’s self-titled debut), but all too often his untempered explorations have proved somewhat testing  to those of us still yearning for the best decade ever (see 2008’s jam-heavy
‘Real Emotional Trash’). That said 2011’s
‘Mirror Traffic’ began his next decade with sharp focus, the majority of its 15 tracks under three minutes long and as melodic and fun as he’d ever been and so with early interviews hinting that
‘Wig Out At Jagbags’ would plough a similarly concise furrow, you could consider these expectations set loftily. And so opener
‘Planetary Motion’ is a bit of a false start, its all-out progginess  inadvertently bracing me for more wiggy
'Pig Lib'-esque shenanigans and over-indulgent guitar solos but it’s an all too brief misstep as the following run of seven songs are both as wildly eclectic and satisfying as Malkmus has been in yonks.
‘The Janitor Revealed’ is three and half minutes of joy as poppy as
‘Carrot Rope’  swiftly followed in the same vein by
‘Lariat’ whose gloriously batshit crazy lyrics would surely charm any frown
(“we lived on Tennyson, venison and the Grateful Dead”) and then there's album high the fantastic
 ‘Houston Hades’ which comes resplendent with a whimsy sing-song of 
‘Shibboleth’ is the first relative curveball; a dark menacing
Pixies bass line and some Santiago-esque distorted guitar wobble that recall the grunge of 2001’s single
‘Discretion Grove’. It’s a spirit that’s shared with later rabble-rouser
‘Rumble At The Rainbo’ which in just over a minute and half celebrates the old days before ending with a cod reggae lilt that descends into spazz rock.. As you do. Then there’s the beautiful
‘J Smoov’ which is Malkmus at his softest; all pretty casual strum with gentle swathes of synth before mournfully ascending muted trumpet that screams of sloppy one-take charm punctuates his yearning vocal to fade (“shuffling for Xanadu”). He brings the trumpets back for the glamtastic stomp of
‘Chartjunk’ which improbably recalls
Billy Joel’s
‘It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me’ and is utterly wonderful. There’s a moderate lull that follows to close things off from the meandering
‘Independent Street’ which  sails dangerously close to
Dylan’s ‘
Isis’, by-numbers second single
‘Cinnamon & Lesbians’ (kudos for the lyric
“I’ve been tripping my face off since breakfast taking in this windswept afternoon” though) to the proggy and overly-long ‘
Surreal Teenagers’ but not enough to upset the apple cart. All in all it's a coin well-tossed. Long may the goofiness continue...
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks will return to the UK for 4 dates in January 2014 as follows: Mon 13th Leeds, Brundell Tues 14th Glasgow, Oran Mor Weds 15th Manchester, Gorilla Thurs 16th London, Forum