Gareth David is lyricist and singer in the band Los Campesinos! He was nominated for Sexiest Vegetarian at the 2009 PETA Awards 2009 and Hottest Male at the 2012 NME awards. He didn’t win either. The most recent Los Campesinos! album NO BLUES is out now via Wichita Recordings.
I wonder how Stephen Malkmus feels. For the most part, it’s been impossible, really, to get inside his mindset throughout his near quarter-century musical discography. Such is the nature of his lyricism —wordplay stacked upon wordplay — that it’s always been near futile to attempt to decipher whether a particular turn of phrase is intended to be poignant or just that it felt particularly nice for Malkmus to roll his tongue around.
The same can be said for any attempts to decipher one of the pivotal scenes of Pavement’s history. Malkmus famously performed at their “last ever” gig at London’s Brixton Academy in 1999 with a pair of handcuffs attached to his microphone stand. This minor stage prop has fallen into indie-rock folklore as some grand gesture symbolic of the band’s ending. It’s often exaggerated that Malkmus “hoisted aloft a pair of handcuffs,” which entirely didn’t happen. It’s hard to imagine our man doing anything with the conviction of a hoist (“slacker,” right?), and in reality he merely prodded at the cuffs hanging limply from his boom stand while mumbling something about them representing what it was like to be in his band.
Eleven years later, after Pavement took on the reunion circuit, it was inevitable that questions would pick up from where the band had left off. In an interview with WBEZ Chicago’s Sound Opinions Malkmus turns the occasion into a gag, saying he only had the handcuffs onstage as a running joke between him and his bandmates at the expense of one of them having left the shackles behind in a hotel room after a night spent with a new girlfriend. That’s so Malkmus.
Do you think Stephen Malkmus worries about how he’s perceived as a 47-year-old man making goofy jokes and playing guitar solos in the year 2014? I’d hope not. Of course, he’s always seemed like an artist who ploughs his own furrow, with no regard for how verdant the next man’s trench is. A Stephen Malkmus album will always be well received by Stephen Malkmus fans (who are obviously also, and foremost, Pavement fans), but they could never possibly like it as much as they do at least one of those first five Pavement records. (Or, as Malkmus puts it on this album’s “Rumble at the Rainbo,” “Come tonight, you’ll see/No one here has changed and no one ever will.”) For your average indie-rock fan, those records are soaked in nostalgia and memories of discovery, of youth. I excitedly and expectantly dipped my toe in the aforementioned Pavement reunion puddle when it filled up near me at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2010. The majority of the audience, that I noticed, were closer to my age than those onstage (though perhaps our likely obnoxious behaviour had just driven those of a more sensible disposition to the wings) and our pogoing and screaming along seemed rehearsed and in defiance of the languished show that was put on before us. My memories are hazy, but I remember feeling guilty. Guilty that as a selfish member of the vast audience I was partly culpable for forcing Malkmus & Co. to come out and play these songs again. (The sound of upper eyelid delicately meeting lower eyelid is almost audible here on “Rumble at the Rainbo” as Malkmus sings “We are returning/returning to our roots/No new material/just cowboy boots.”) We, the jailers.
There’s one line in particular in this album that seems sincere in its sentiment, and which I can’t avoid as I turn my hand to attempting to write about the work of a man without whom my own band would likely not exist (and I realise that’s an incredibly lame thing to say, but it’s pertinent enough, and it’s gonna get lamer). “Chartjunk,” all horn bursts and call-and-response gang vocals, coming over, oddly enough, like first-era Dexy’s Midnight Runners, opens with the line “I’ve been you/I’ve been everywhere you’re going.” The song specifically, per Malkmus, is an imagined conversation between Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and his former coach at the Milwaukee Bucks, Scott Skiles. Skiles plays the role of the curmudgeonly, forthright boss attempting to reel in his prima donna young upstart. Now, I admire any writer who uses sport as a narrative tool in their lyricism, as Malkmus frequently has done in the past, but please allow me to take that line from its context as I recline on my chair, keyboard out of reach.
You see, my band formed largely based on a mutual love of Pavement, I played our first-ever gig with a pair of handcuffs knowingly hung from my mike stand, our debut release featured a cover of a Pavement song, and we deliberately allowed our third album to be overlong and meandering, convincing ourselves it could be “our Wowee Zowee.” I could go on. Me “reviewing” this record is entirely inappropriate. The one courtesy I owe is at the very least to keep my damn mouth shut. (As if Malkmus cares about any review anyway.)
That said, I’m delighted that Wig Out at Jagbags, his sixth post-Pavement album, is my favourite Jicks release, and in turn my favourite Malkmus release for some time. Gone are the tortuous solos and jam-band vibes of previous records that failed to hold this dilettante’s attention (my fault, not Malkmus’), and in their place are breezy, focused, hook-laden songs that sound like Malky and his Jicks having a great time of it. Malkmus seems to present these songs with a confidence and a lightness of touch that I’d not noticed so recently from him. He’s entertaining. Smart. Everything his audience has come to expect from him. Everything I’ve come to expect from him. And more than anything, he’s Stephen Malkmus. I wonder how he feels?