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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks



Undoubtedly, most readers are already familiar with this sultan of slack, this most collegiate of all college-rock types, this lo-fi icon, this grade A musical goon. Yes, Stephen Malkmus was the primary vocalist for a little band called Pavement, whose literate, offbeat style of meandering lo-fi pop made them pretty much the most important underground rock group of the '90s. In mid 2000, after five studio albums, Pavement's decade-long career sputtered to a close, the band going into permanent hiatus as its members moved on to other projects (the most notable besides Malkmus's being guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg's Preston School Of Industry). So Malkmus took his trademark sardonic drawl off to Portland to make his first solo record.

Though it was recorded under the working title Swedish Reggae, the album ended up being called simply Stephen Malkmus, which, though less amusing, might be more representative of its contents. Because the album simply sounds like Malkmus cutting loose and having a good time in his own unique and distinctive way. That's not so different from what Pavement sounded like, but towards the end of their career, Pavement had begun to sound positively earnest at times, an unexpected direction for a band whose sharp sense of whimsy had been one of their most endearing traits. Malkmus's solo debut features the more polished production of the last Pavement full-length, Terror Twilight, while reclaiming some of the irrepressible zaniness of earlier Pavement releases. Assisting him in his mission is his new backing band, The Jicks, which features drummer John Moen of The Fastbacks and The Maroons and bassist Joanna Balme of The Minders and Calamity Jane, both longtime indie rock fixtures in Portland, Oregon, Malkmus's adopted hometown.

If The Velvet Underground were sometimes invoked in efforts to describe Pavement's sprawling, arty lo-fi; several tracks on Malkmus's first album make mention of early solo Lou Reed (a la "Wild Child") appropriate, with their classic guitar riffs and free-associative laconic sing-speak. "The Hook," a peculiar song about pirates, is one of these. Elsewhere Malkmus wanders into pastoral melancholy and full-on multi-instrumental gooniness, while never losing the agreeably laid-back sunny day vibe which permeates the album.

With his follow-up, Pig Lib, the first album to be co-credited to the Jicks, Malkmus continues his snotty hellraiser turned likeable grown-up goof routine. The music is certainly likeable, and often, as on "(Do Not Feed the) Oyster" entertainingly offbeat, but it's Malkmus's most MOR release to date. 2005 saw the release of Face the Truth which was credited solely to Malkmus, as something of a more personal, self-recorded release from the slacker icon. 

Through the years the Jicks have gone through a few minor lineup changes. Most notably was the of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi drummer and all round Portland scene bad ass Janet Weiss in 2008 for the release of Real Emotional Trash. Trash found the group toying with loser song structures and extended jams.

After a brief stint fronting the reunited Pavement in 2010, Malkmus returned to the studio with Beck Hansen to put the finishing touches on the Jicks' fifth release Mirror Traffic. Mirror Traffic marks the long awaited collaboration between Malkmus and co-torch bearer of the early '90s slacker movement Beck. Traffic also marks the departure of Weiss who left to join former Sleater-Kinney mate Carrie Brownstein in Wild Flag, and being replaced by drummer Jake Morris.