Stephen Malkmus is one of the last Nineties indie-rock titans who has kept making his own eccentric music, on his own merry terms. Though written while Malkmus was living in Berlin, the excellently titled Wig Out at Jagbags – his sixth album with the Jicks – shows his heart’s still in his native California, as he whips up song structures that give him room to indulge his taste for hazy, cosmic jive, sardonic wit and unabashed guitar beauty. Somehow, the joker who sang “Fight This Generation” has ended up as the Eddie Vedder of irony.
Like 2011’s Mirror Traffic, Wig Out is one of his “tight little tunes” albums, as opposed to his “shaggy-ass psychedelic solos” albums. Yet even his tightest tunes are full of bizarre detours. “Cinnamon and Lesbians” is a lament about getting “shanghaied in Oregon,” until it turns into a shameless heist of the Grateful Dead‘s “St. Stephen.” “Houston Hades” mangles a vintage Kinks riff (“Polly”) into a cowpunk sex strut, and “Chartjunk” is 1970s soft-rock choogling. “Shibboleth” could have been the fifth-best song on the Pixies‘ Bossanova – maybe Malkmus is auditoning to be Kim Deal’s next replacement?
Jagbags doesn’t get too solemn in the lyrics department (“I’ve been tripping my face off since breakfast/Taking in this windswept afternoon”). But Malkmus prefers to do his emoting with his guitar, especially in the fantastic ballad “J Smoov,” where he tries to write his own Al Green song. When he stretches out vocally, to match the high-register tremble of his guitar, Malkmus proves that he can come on like a soulman – even when he’s wigging out.