Album Review: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador)

[ROUNDBALL ROCK] On a recent Grantland podcast, Stephen Malkmus let his guard down on the secrets behind the awesomely titled Wig Out at Jagbags, his new record with the Jicks. "There's one song called 'Chartjunk' where I inhabit the mind of two prima donna-esque characters of the NBA, Scott Skiles and Brandon Jennings," Malkmus said, with only a slight trace of irony. After years of trying to parse meaning from his inscrutable lyrics, it turns out the key has more to do with fantasy basketball than obscure literature. 

When you think about it, Malkmus has never tried to hide his dorkiness. Back when the members of Pavement were the darlings of the indie-rock universe, Malkmus went out of his way to talk about his favorite Scrabble moves instead of hip influences. Now 47, back in Portland after a few years living with his family in Berlin, he's fully embracing his inner nerd: penning songs about fights at Chicago dive bars ("Rumble at the Rainbo"), joke-naming the most tender ballad after another hoopster's nickname ("J Smoov"), and singing about cinnamon, lesbians, Tennyson, venison and the Grateful Dead. 

Wig Out at Jagbags is easily Malkmus' most fun record since his self-titled solo debut—it's an almost effortless collection of weird pop songs, guitar freakouts and inside jokes. Malkmus sounds confident and invigorated, embracing his whims and mostly ditching the extended classic-rock jams for hummable melodies and a sort of lovable white-boy soul. "Houston Hades" and the terrific first single, "Lariat," showcase the king jester at his sing-song best, ripping off hilarious lines, non sequiturs and odd poetic phrases that get better with each listen. "We grew up listening to the music of the best decade ever," he sings on "Lariat," pausing briefly before the punch line: "Talking 'bout the ADDs." Never change, Stephen.

HEAR IT: Wig Out at Jagbags is out Tuesday, Jan. 7.