Dude, if you don't dig it, maybes it's not your jagbag
Do you like riddles? Maybe you would take delight in puzzling over the meaning of such pleasantly bizarre lyrics as “A love like oxygen so foxy then, so terrific now,” a line that began life as “Tenors need oxygen so foxy then, so horrific now” before an intervention from the musician’s wife. If so, Stephen Malmuks & the Jicks might be the right band for you.
Malmuks, the floppy-fringed and sprightly indie-rocker, is well past taking himself too seriously. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. As frontman and one of the two masterminds behind legendary indie-rock band Pavement, the 47-year-old has secured himself a respectable position in the indie hall of fame. But instead of zoning out into a haze or bemoaning the musical offspring of a genre he helped create, the “Eddie Vedder of Irony” (Rolling Stone) is choosing to have a merry time with his solo project, Stephen Malmuks & the Jicks.
Together with bassist Joanna Bolme, guitarist Mike Clark and his faithful soundman Remko Schouten, whom he has been working with since the Pavement days, Malmuks has just self-produced his sixth solo album, Wig Out at Jagbags.
Released on January 7, Rolling Stone praised tight and unpretentious “song structures that give Malmuks room to indulge his taste for hazy, cosmic jive, sardonic wit and unabashed guitar beauty”.
Jagbag, in case you’re wondering, is the Chicago version of a jerk-off, or whatever your respective way of watering down your profanities is. The Mid-West allusion is an exception to an otherwise unmistakably West Coast vibe that the Portlander breathes into his lyrics.
But don’t get hung up on the wording – Malkmus doesn’t. His lyrics are mere placeholders: the kind that you listen to in your car and sing along “Ba de ba ba ba ba da be da da” and feel like the song really nails it. As long as it sounds good, Malmuks is happy.
But just because his recent albums are more accessible, doesn’t mean they’re pop: for all his insouciant dudishness, Malmuks’ guitar playing is as dexterous as ever, and his political awareness has only matured, not died.
Bands from the 1990s hold a lot of mystique these days – many remember the decade as an idealistic, romantic one. “At the time, it seemed like a cynical era,” Malmuks told Rolling Stone. “There were all these worries about selling out and the ‘Man’ and corporate rock and irony and sincerity. But in retrospect, being cynical just meant that you cared. There was something at stake.”
Malmuks remains silent on how much of that heritage is alive in today’s indie-rock, but was more forthright in his opinion about digital music service Spotify.
“I think it sucks,” he said. “That doesn’t mean my music isn’t on there, though. I’m against a lot of things that I do in life, and I still do them, so there’s a lot of self-deception in all our lives. At least in the life of an unprincipled musician.”
As Pitchfork observes, for many of the fans he has made since his time with Pavement, “it’s been something of a constant adjustment, watching one of indie rock’s loosest dudes tighten up tighter”.
But even if that’s true, you’d be hard-pressed not to find the obfuscated semantics of this word fiend entertaining, or at least to escape his goofy-bratty charm. Dude, man or cofounding father of a genre, Malmuks’ performance at Lille Vega is bound to appeal to anyone sympathetic to the idea of wigging out at a jagbag.
Lille Vega, Enghavevej 40, Cph V;