Californian Steve Malkmus and his Jicks go northwest

Mike Schoeck

Singer/songwriter Stevie Malkmus, of the late Pavement, launched a solo album in February.
Off of indie label Matador Records, his self-titled release is on the way to becoming a best of the year among college-rock acts. On the same note, with his new band called the Jicks, Malkmus shows off the nonchalant but very accomplished life of a `90’s rock genius.
Malkmus resembles an alternative musician turned to a successful solo career despite having a small but dedicated following. One artist who took a similar career turn as a solo artist is Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, a poetic proto-punk figure during late-Seventies glam-rock.
In the early `90s, Pavement was a seminal indie rock band who put North California on the map for college rock appeal. With five members and five albums, the lo-fi patriots lasted roughly seven years, each going their own way after 1999’s Terror Twilight.
The band left a lasting image of the DIY-motto band that has defined lo-fi indie rockers such as Beck, Weezer, and Built to Spill.
Over their career span, Pavement released dozens of E.P.s and singles on 7″ vinyl on their Matador label. The band matured from the raucous garage-band sound to an essential `90s modern rock group.
Malkmus is currently based in Portland, Oregon, after moving north from his native locale of Stockton, California. The singer/songwriter contributes on his self-titled release with lead vocals and guitar. John Moen is the trio’s drummer, while JoAnna Bolme plays bass guitar. Nigel Goodrich, of Pavement, Radiohead, & Beck fame, produced the record.
Malkmus and his band, the Jicks, provide a clever story-telling caliber among a dozen tracks. Although Malkmus “once thought [he] had invented the name,” legend has it that a `Jick’ is another name for the Jack of Hearts in a Sicilian Card Game.
In “The Hook,” the first single from the album released on his web site, the singer says, “it was ever so fun,” despite an absence of “wooden legs, steel hooks, or eye patches.” In his story of a captive who was raised by a horde of pirates, the Jicks give a fun-filled swagger of a pop-rock song, with an average-guy vocal charm similar to that of Beck Hansen.
“Discretion Grove” is the current radio single on college stations. Riff-wise, the catchy pop gem faintly resembles previous Pavement work, with a more distinct and sophisticated layer of a country-rock ditty by the end.
Also showing on the remainder of the album, the Jicks give off a great chemistry in the band despite being a modest trio. The chemistry is rooted in the craft of Malkmus in his original guitar riffs and story-told lyrics about pirate ship adventures, Western movie stars, and other random historical tidbits put to indie rock.
“Trojan Curfew” is another outstanding track off his album. The spacey, mellowed out precursor is a bit reminiscent of the recent `Pavement-brothers and heirs to the throne of indie rock,’ Grandaddy, as well as the styles of Mazzy Starr and Aimee Mann. The track evolves through a mellow fog to an ending of some up-tempo pop-rock.
Pick up Stevie Malkmus and the Jicks album or any of the old handful of Pavement LPs this spring if you have missed out on some early `90’s Beck or popularized lo-fi meets mainstream fanfare. The Jicks’ card-game style brand of alternative rock is a well-deserved treat compared to much of the extreme sorts of alternative music on the table today.
Grade: A+