Amid all the reunions of ’90s bands, Pavement’s was an anomaly—no new material, just some shows, a best-of release and then kaput, all within the year 2010. That’s perhaps a good thing, since it gives people a chance to focus on frontman Stephen Malkamus’ work both solo and with the Jicks, which has been largely excellent—and underrated. Wig Out at Jagbags finds Malkamus and co. loose and having fun, but still writing solid songs that stick. After a couple of jammy numbers, the album picks up with the poppy “Lariat,” which funnily seems to call out Malkmus’ own fan base (“we grew up listening to music from the best decade ever!” he sings at the conclusion). Alt-rock revivalism gives way to a piano-led rock ballad on “Houston Hades.” “Rumble at the Rainbo” finds the band poking fun at its own elder status within the underground community—“come and join us in this punk rock tune/come slam dancing with some ancient dudes,” Malkamus sings. The more improvy numbers might lose some people, even if relistening to Pavement finds as much emphasis on exploration as melody, but they always come back with a catchy tune—“Chartjunk” features horns and Malkamus playing a not-jokey guitar solo, and seeming to enjoying every minute of it; “Independence Street” is a Velvets-esque, dry ballad; and “Surreal Teenagers” closes the album on an energetic high. With an album as fun to listen to as Wig Out at Jagbags, we’ll let Malkamus close the book on Pavement and move into a new era.
The year is just about up, but new music is headed our way. You can already preorder some albums due in 2014 on Amoeba.com. Here are 10 to check out. [WARNING: NSFW pic of Sky Ferreira's infamous nip-slip album cover below].
Due Jan. 7
Preorder on CD
Due Jan. 7
The singer for hip smooth jazz purveyors Rhye, Milosh, has an otherworldly, feminine voice that has helped make that band a favorite of many a music fan. On his solo album Jet Lag, Milosh employs many of the same dynamics Rhye does on their debut, Woman, only with a somehow even more intimate sound, using laptoppy sounds and his own swirling, looped voice to create small, sexy atmospheres. The effect is to pair down Rhye’s already intimate sound even further, akin to how Thom Yorke used The Eraser to approach a more electronic, solitary sound than with Radiohead. Jet Lag’s electronic textures are appealing, yet it’s always Milosh’s voice that keeps us hooked, and he uses it to great effect on “Slow Down,” one of his strongest compositions yet, using little more than his voice and piano to sell a pretty broad sentiment—“can we all just slow down?” he sings in his breathiest tone. With that voice, you’ll do just about anything he says.
In Gang Gang Dance, Brian DeGraw helps make screwed up electronic music that is still somehow danceable and hooky. In his bEEdEEgEE project, he expands on the dancier side of things, weaving expansive electronic tapestries rooted in house and new wave, with the help of a couple of awesome guest singers (CSS’s Lovefoxxx, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, among others). Douglas Armour’s yearning voice makes “Empty Vases” into ace emotional electro-pop. His GGD bandmate Lizzi Bougatsos lends some of her ethereal coo to the jittery “Overlook,” which feels as close to their band as anything on this album. And Taylor makes “(F.U.T.D.) Time of Waste” a great, hedonistic party jam about having lots to do yet getting nothing done—“all I wanna do is fuck up the day” has to be one of the great all-time slacker lines, while Lovefoxx’s turn over the big, dreamy beats of “Flowers” has got to be the highlight of the entire album. Yet even with these high-profile guest spots, DeGraw is still just as dazzling on his own, spinning various distorted percussive elements into a dizzying stew on “Bricks” and creating a distinctive early house homage with “Like Rain Man.” It’s late in the year, but bEEdEEgEE is making a bid for year-end-list relevance with the stunning Sum/One.
Shearwater’s latest is a set of covers and one original that pay tribute to bands they’ve toured with. It may seem like a strange way to round up a set of covers, but it mostly works, and serves as a nice follow-up to last year’s Animal Joy before the band regroups to record new material. It’s a kick to hear them take on Xiu Xiu’s “I Luv the Valley OH!!” and hear Jonathan Meiburg intone “my behind is a beehive.” They make Coldplay more tasteful on their rendition of “Hurts Like Heaven.” And while some covers remain faithful, like their version of Folk Implosion’s mid-’90s rock radio hit “Natural One,” they take a different melodic tack to St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader,” making the song their own, and give a more humanistic sense to Clinic’s “Tomorrow” while retaining that band’s rhythmic thump. Fellow Travelers pulls a neat trick for Shearwater, a band who is distinctive in its own right but whose moody indie-rock sound is difficult to pinpoint, by showing how that sound applies to the music of others. And it ends up a nice showcase for the bands they cover, highlighting some of the lesser-known bands they’ve toured with, on lovely renditions of David Thomas Broughton’s “Ambiguity,” for instance, while shedding new light on bigger bands like Coldplay. It’s a winner, all-around.