Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: "Lariat"
from Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador; 2014)
By Maura McAndrew | 5 December 2013
It’s hard to believe, but with the upcoming Wig Out at Jagbags, due in January, Stephen Malkmus will officially have released more full-length albums with the Jicks than with Pavement. Of course the major difference in these two segments of Malkmus’s career is that the first, compressed into a single decade, is more eclectic and frenetic, while the second, which seems on track to reach the fifteen-year mark, has been more leisurely, with only occasional experimentation (Pig Lib  and the prog-y Real Emotional Trash  stand perhaps slightly apart). The cliché goes that with middle age comes either self-assured stability or a complete freak out. So far, Malkmus has chosen the former, and perhaps because he’s Stephen Malkmus, he can maintain the same sound over multiple albums and I’m willing to call it a groove instead of a rut.
“Lariat,” the first single from Wig Out at Jagbags, like certain songs from Mirror Traffic (2011), can’t help but acknowledge and skillfully squirm away from Malkmus’s current indie rock elder statesman/Portland Dad persona. Over lush, wistful guitars, Malkmus faux-reminisces, “We lived on Tennyson and venison and the Grateful Dead”; “I was so messed up / You were drunk and high”; building to the final refrain, “We grew up listenin’ / To the music from / The best decade ever / Talkin’ bout the A-D-D’s.” It’s a swipe at the current VH1-inspired nostalgia-obsessed culture as well as maybe a swipe at people like me, always calling him an indie rock elder statesman/Portland Dad.
“Lariat” strikes the same balance of sneering condescension and silliness that made “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” an instant classic twelve years ago. While this track isn’t chock-full of the same awkward details, it doesn’t need them. This is a short song with a very simple sentiment to capture, and it succeeds wildly within its own humble constraints. And, like “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” before it, “Lariat” is grounded by a sort of understated melancholy, present always in the break of Malkmus’s breathy, sharp voice and those end-of-movie-credits guitars. It’s this surprisingly prominent grain of sincerity that buoyed Mirror Traffic, and continues to propel Malkmus’s work forward, relevant and exciting beyond the reach of the nostalgia industry.