Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – “Wig Out at Jagbags”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Lariat” “Surreal Teenagers”

At 47, Stephen Malkmus is very much an adult. He has had nothing to prove for many years, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still play music. His last few releases have served little purpose other than establishing Malkmus as the reluctant adult he is. And that’s where “Wig Out at Jagbags” stands – it’s youthful, but definitely adult. Malkmus seems like a ‘cool dad’ that will take his kids to shows and steal the neighbors wifi. His most well-known project, Pavement, served as an antidote to to those turned off by Nirvana and Sonic Youth in the early 90′s – deceivingly catchier, while still grungy and ear-aching. But now, Malkmus is comfortable making fun and diverse alternative that’s never great, but is always an easy listen.

“Wig Out of Jigbags” has a little of everything, like a less stoned Kurt Vile. “Lariat” has keyboards. “Houston Hades” heavily features a trombone. “Rumble at the Rainbo” is a punk blast and “Surreal Teenagers” has volume shifts akin to the Pavement years. The album feels like a mission statement – Malkmus is committed to having fun in the studio. The music doesn’t have much to it, and it doesn’t have to. These are songs Malkmus wants to record, and damn if he isn’t going to.

Lyrically, too, the album reflects Malkmus’s life. Some songs, specifically “Cinnamon and Lesbians,” are steeped in poetry, but some are simply referential. “Lariat” frequently mentions listening to music from the greatest decade, without ever saying what it is, and namedrops Tennyson and the Grateful Dead in the same line. The album has plenty of songs about age – reminiscent odes to growing up, and songs about accepting it when it happens. It’s a playful record, one that accepts adulthood with the stipulation of continuing to look at life through the eyes of an inspired teen. Malkmus is only aging physically, and it’s evident in his consistent releases. “Wig Out at Jagbags” won’t gain many new fans, but the payoff is Malkmus knowing his audience.

If you like this, try: Lee Ranaldo & the Dust’s “Last Night on Earth” – Another fun and eclectic album recorded by an alt god stripped of his band.

Roomrunner – “Ideal Cities”

(Photo Credit: Stereogum)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Bait Car,” “Wojtek”

The dream of the 90’s is alive in Baltimore. Roomrunner gleefully throw ode to some of the early 90’s grunge and noise rock bands. Nirvana is idolized through fast rhythms that let a punk influence bleed heavily through. Pavement is redrawn through heavy distortion that adds to the melodies and through the rough transitions between songs. Roomrunner never tries to be conventional. The opening track, “Bait Car” is an assault on time signatures that are sometimes impossible to decipher. “Wotjek” sounds like more of a poppy side to the band, until the chorus, featuring rhythms of pure feedback that are different on each passby. The finale, “Snac Error,” ends with a waving drone of guitar that takes up a good chunk of the track.

“Ideal Cities” is over in about a half hour, and it is one of the rare times where the short length of a punk album does not feel entirely fulfilling. The album wasn’t one idea stretched into a certain number of tracks, but a bunch of little experimentations that left me wanting more. This is hardly a criticism, as the band made an interesting record that sounds fresh but resembles the pre-grunge bands of yesteryear. It is melodic and noisy, all while maintaining a sense of fun. Pavement and the Pixies would be proud.

If you like this, try: “Living Dummy” by Pangea (2o12). More of a conventional (surf-)punk record, but there is a similarity between bands, I cannot emphasize enough my love for “Living Dummy”

-By Andrew McNally