Wig Out At Jagbags: Another hodgepodge attempt from Stephen Malkmus

Fun fact: If hours of reading interviews with Stephen Malkmus are to be believed, it’s nigh impossible to carry any discussion about his current love child, The Jicks, without constantly dredging up the past and bringing up his former, infinitely more well-known band.

The comparisons are inevitable, and on some level I get it: Malkmus has had a prolific career and brings with him an iconic sound that parodically blends a laid-back singing style and simple melodies with charming nonsensical lyrics and complex instrumentation.

But to constantly bring up that band and compare it to his work with The Jicks is just lazy and unfair. So, in an exercise in restraint, I shall attempt to go through this entire review of “Wig Out At Jagbags” with nary a mention of comparison to that “other band.”

Album art for Wig Out at Jagbags
Album art for Wig Out at Jagbags

With “Wig Out At Jagbags,” Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks are now six albums strong, but you’re still no closer to working out the madness behind the machine. It’s difficult to enunciate just exactly what it IS that The Jicks do that makes all their seemingly directionless clanging and banging come together as warm, poppy and inviting.

Utilizing that stripped-down, garageband approach that’s worked for him in the past with [BAND SHALL NOT BE NAMED], Malkmus and The Jicks flirt around with bizarre guitar strumming, playful melodies, jangly chords, manic drumming, trumpets, bells, whistles and on one occasion (“Houston Hades”) honest-to-god honky tonk piano.

The closest The Jicks ever come to writing a traditional song is the insanely bouncy “Lariat,” and even that has hints of the trademark Malkmus weirdness in the nigh incomprehensible lyrics (“You’re not what you aren’t/You aren’t what you’re not/You got what you want/You want what you got/People look strange when they shave/Don’t they?”).

The bizarre thing is all these musical interludes somehow gel together even while straying away from the traditional song format. The Jicks all but dare you to just try to find a recognizable hook in any one song or predict any kind of pattern.

“The Janitor Revealed” starts off sounding like a kazoo-backed dreamscape, before suddenly giving way to crashing cymbals and a flurry of guitar shredding. “J-Smoov” opts for a more classical approach, bringing in violin strings and trumpets to accompany a surprisingly effective Malkmus croon.

But before your ears can adjust to the new direction, in comes “Rumble at the Rainbo” kicking things off with a vaguely Sex Pistols-esque intro before giving way to an explosion of jangly garage rock, drawing more than a few comparisons to [ALBUM NAMED REMOVED] that we’re definitely not going to talk about.

On the downside, while The Jicks’ willingness to experiment and not take themselves too seriously is their biggest strength, it occasionally works against them when their random hodgepodge doesn’t net the most pleasant results. Album opener “Planetary Motion” sounds like a long pointless drone to nowhere that isn’t nearly as amusing as the band thinks. And there’s a sharp drop off in quality after the moody “Scattergories.”

The final three tracks sound like they were clumsily assembled, mixing in good (the prog-rock drum solo in “Cinnamon and Lesbians”) and bad (pointless, lazy guitar plucking) to make for a very “meh” ending. But other than an awkward beginning and a half-assed ending, the middle parts offer a refreshingly different take on rock n’ roll without being too inaccessible to the casual listener.

Stephen Malkmus may very well be classic rock’s laid-back, in between jobs, autistic savant, little brother, and “Wig Out At Jagbags” suggests he’s not looking to change up residences anytime soon. As a whole, it’s a strong album with some creative hits and occasional misses. But it may make you just wish you were listening to Pavement……….dammit.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Wig Out At Jagbags


(Matador Records)

Jan. 7, 2014


Grade: B