Think Outside the Boombox: Bringing '90s back

Music columnist Patrick McKenna on the latest album from the former lead singer of Pavement

By Patrick McKenna | Jan. 21, 2014

Tags: Music Reviews

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Hey there, MOVErs. I thought I’d start out this first column entry by introducing myself to whomever may be reading it. My name is Patrick McKenna, and I’m a music fanatic (promise I’m not intending to sound like an AA intro).

For the majority of my life, I’ve been relishing in the beauty that is music; listening to The Beatles’ White Album and Sticky Fingers while mowing the lawn in sixth grade was, for some reason, one of the first pivotal moments during which I truly absorbed the majestic nature of rock and roll.

Since then, I’ve been writing about music, its importance and the indescribable moments every listener encounters when faced with that perfect song. Throughout this semester, my goal is to continue just that, while providing readers with music you might not usually come across.

And with that — on to my first review.

For music lovers who pride themselves on being part-human, part-genre encyclopedias, it is a given that Pavement, the Californian indie giant of the '90s, was a quintessential example of groundbreaking music neglected by so many. Led by the intellectual, witty and talented Stephen Malkmus (lead guitar and vocals), the group blasted fuzz-filled guitar anthems holding plenty of experimentation, while always supplying insightfully hilarious lyrics.

Similar to genre pioneers The Velvet Underground, Pavement received bountiful praise from critics and artists without much mainstream popularity, having only one single, “Cut Your Hair,” that made any sort of mainstream splash. The splash that it did make was more due to the comical music video than the track itself.

Nonetheless, the group helped kick-start the indie rock movement that today stands as the overseer of most rock-based genres, whether it be cowpunk, freak folk or the more tame indie pop.

That innovative sound still holds up with Malkmus, aka King Indie, whose current band, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, released its sixth LP in early January. The album, titled Wig Out At Jagbags, sees Malkmus resurrect his distinctly wonderful guitar sound, mashed into tracks about astronomy, bizarre acid trips and always remaining independent in one’s art.

The group’s first album since 2011, Wig Out At Jagbags seems like a therapeutic creation for Malkmus, almost telling the music world that he’s not afraid to mix his old-school indie rock roots with unusual instrumental arrangements and power pop-based guitar greatness.

The always eclectic Malkmus & Co. dabble in almost every style possible on Jagbags, whether it be acoustic ballads backed by a slow, jazzy atmosphere (“J Smoov”) or a horn-filled, “Chicago”-esque track with just a touch of Wilco’s early alt-country sound (“Chartjunk”). But with each track, his standard distortion-heavy guitar licks ring true to his legacy — and his ability to continue it.

The standout tracks are evident on this album, with “Cinnamon and Lesbians” leading the pack. A wacky account of a trippy afternoon in California, the track stays consistent with the randomness of Malkmus’ words, while applying a tantalizing Grateful Dead-style jam to waft the track into the clouds.

With “Lariat,” the band constructs a summery pop tune filled with enough tasteful riffing to satisfy a Californian rocker, with Malkmus’ characteristically clever lyrics leading the way.

At 47, Malkmus proves himself more than capable of putting together a tasty album of nostalgia, while never forgetting to adapt to an ever-changing cycle of music styles. It seems fitting, as the indie motto says something along the lines of “you could do anything you want.”

It’s good to see some musicians will always be true to themselves.

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