#Adulting: The Jicks get "Shiggy"
If there’s anything cynical and jaded left in Stephen Malkmus these days I honestly can’t see it. Even though his vaunted status as the patron saint of Indierock still requires him to halfheartedly deal in the currency of sarcasm and apathy, I don't get the sense that he's "that guy" anymore. His current band (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) is nearing the 20-year mark having long ago eclipsed his first band, seminal college-rock forefathers Pavement, in terms of staying power. Part of SM&tJ’s success seems to be that there is a looseness to the entire arrangement: albums come out whenever, tours are sporadic and relatively short, the music itself tends to be unconcerned with genre-dictated box-checking or with blowing any sort of subculture dog whistles. This mentality is somewhat antithetical to the notion of Pavement, and the transition from an irascible pontificator into the affable "whatever" guy he seems to be now has suited Malkmus well.
We can say without hyperbole that he has risen from the flames of Pavement’s acrimonious split to become a purveyor of indie dad-rock. On the face of it that may sound like a backhanded compliment or an all-out slight, but the fact is that he is making the breeziest and most fun music of his career. When you launch yourself as a paragon of slacker virtue and become a touchstone of the punk/DIY/underground scene, one of the only things left to rebel against is the notion of rebellion. And the older we get as fans, that feels more and more like a refreshing change of pace: instead of fighting all the time against hierarchies, economics, labels, management, and bandmates, maybe there is a point where everything is finally allowed to be what it will be and matriculate at its own pace.
Importantly, this isn't one of those either/or dichotomies you're always reading about: Pavement knew how to be chill just as much as the Jicks know how to rock out, but it all comes down to intention. The intention of Pavement's mellowness still had the implied ferocity of shark fins in the distance, whereas the heaviest rocking that the Jicks' do is belied by no small amount of shrugging as if to say, "This is the part of the song where we get 'crazy' but it'll be over soon." Pavement’s final LP, Terror Twilight, was arguably the first step toward this evolution for the frontman. The band’s swan song carried a charmingly lethargic nature that put to shame the moments of listlessness spread across the band's previous four albums, moments that had been largely respites from brazen loud-hard-fast-ism (check out Slanted and Enchanted's transition from "Conduit For Sale!" into "Zurich Is Stained" for an example of this dynamic) or simply odd left turns that made up for their lack of apparent energy by leaving the audience scratching its collective head (such as Wowee Zowee's spazzy and free-associative opener "We Dance"). Looking back, it is easy to imagine that this progression toward something aesthetically more comfortable and less belligerent could have been one source of the band’s internal strife. When some members of a group are pitted against others in an ongoing discussion about how long they can stay in Neverland, disaster is probably imminent.
The thing is, there is a pleasant kind of commiseration to be found in resignation and DGAF-itude, and it is no less potent than its conflict-derived cousin. Over the course of their discography, Pavement fought against quote-unquote coolness, and posturing, and consumerism, and blind institutionalism, and elements of the music business itself, and even Smashing Pumpkins. When you’re a fan of a band that fought for so long, it is nice to be reminded that you don’t always have to fight - the fight will still be there tomorrow should you choose to suit up again for battle. There are times when punching the air and screaming into the abyss is the exact right thing, and it is important to have a soundtrack for that. But on the days when we just don’t feel like raging, it is just as important to have a soundtrack for that.
This is why I have come to love Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks even more in my advancing age. Pavement was a perfect band for me in those teen and young adult years – I needed the camaraderie it offered when I was dejected, bruised, unhappy for no reason. I needed to know that someone out there was pissed off like me in the exact same ways, even when it wasn't about the exact same things. And I still love Pavement, but the emotion I inject into listening to them now is still the righteous indignation and bummed-out ennui of a young person – as such, they are feelings more dredged up from the murky swamps of memory than actually felt in real time. SM&tJ offers something else entirely. The energy I used to have for anger and loneliness is now largely dedicated to things like surviving, cultivating healthy relationships, making responsible choices, appreciating art, and trying to create it through my writing. What I need now is music that appreciates that even these ideals, less reflexively defined and more internally driven, can be struggles too – and sometimes the best remedy for those particular struggles is something loose and carefree, a diversion to occupy and pacify the existential goblins increasingly peeking out from the unbrightened corners.
Comparing the two acts turns into a moment of self-reflection where I realize that I've matured from a wild-eyed Pavement-junkie kid into a Jicks-loving adult who contributes to society while occasionally getting a little down in the mouth about some of the things I can't change. Where Pavement tended to burn the forest as a way to fight the fire, Malkmus seems more content now to construct an air-conditioned rec room along the edges of the blaze. The inferno isn’t going anywhere and it’ll still be there later when we decide enough is enough, but for now let’s just relax and take advantage of it to grill up some vegan hot dogs……
"Take a load off, man…perfect weather today…Oh hey, didja catch that game yesterday?…man, it was a good one…"