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Stephen Malkmus stays slanted and enchanted




It's been a decade and a half since Pavement called it a day. But if Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' new album is any indication, things haven't changed all that much.

For Wig Out at Jagbags, which was released early last month on Matador Records, Malkmus and his band (guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark, bassist Joanna Bolme and drummer Jake Morris) spent just one week recording the basic tracks. And it wasn't like the songs were rehearsed to death before recording began.

"If you stay in a place for like a month, you lose your energy," says Malkmus of the group's sessions in a rural Belgian studio. "You're just kind of sitting around playing jazz, or watching TV in the back room, and drinking every night. You get in there and you have your burst of energy — it probably comes the second or third day — but then you go back in and you get tired. You get emotionally worn out."

Nearly all of Wig Out's songs were written back before Malkmus reunited his more well-known shambling, lo-fi rock band for a year-long reunion tour in 2010. The frontman is justifiably proud of Pavement's past — even though he's made it clear that the reunion tour did not signal further projects for the group.

"It's a part of my history and it's something that's a positive thing in my life," says Malkmus, whose solo and Jicks albums now outnumber the five Pavement recorded. "So, yeah, it was cool, and I'm not going to deny that a lot of my high points were back then."

During the European leg of their tour, the Jicks mixed new and old tunes with an odd mix of covers that Malkmus says he likes to spring on his bandmates at the last minute.

"Last night, we did 'Brass in Pocket' by the Pretenders, then we went into 'Peace of Mind' by Boston and into 'No Surprises' by Radiohead," says Malkmus. "They had no idea I was going to do that. Luckily, they're all easy songs. They're just barre chords, at least our versions of them are. I wouldn't call 'No Surprises' by Radiohead 'barre chords,' but the way we did it, it was."

In the studio, Malkmus still isn't one to belabor the recording process or plan out every detail of a session. Even so, the guitar rock songs that emerged on Wig Out at Jagbags tend to be more concise and less jam-driven than past efforts, often centering on appealing pop melodies.

The hooks, though, don't always come from the obvious places. "The Janitor Revealed," for instance, grabs the listener with its snaky vocal melody and a catchy mid-song melodic break, while breezy horns give "Chartjunk" jolts of sunny melody to go with the song's otherwise edgier personality.

As with much of his music dating back to Pavement, Malkmus also weaves in elements of country, alt-rock and psychedelia.

"I think I'm good at variety," says the musician. "Other people might have an idea of what I'm better at. I should ask them."

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