Here are the album reviews I wrote for the Feb. issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on Jan. 25.
Wig Out at Jagbags
-Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (Matador/P-Vine)
-Dum Dum Girls (Sub Pop/Traffic)
A hallmark of the 90s indie rock movement was a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that implied an aversion to music careerism—or careers in general. This attitude mostly translated as humor at the expense of other musicians who were serious about making it, commercially and culturally. Most prominent among these goofballs was Pavement, since they actually produced a body of work that justified a career, meaning they could afford to be goofballs because they were artistically consistent. Since going solo leader Stephen Malkmus has maintained that integrity, though the landscape has changed. Indie means little any more in terms of real attitude, and as it turns out Malkmus was never anti-career. That was just a misconception of the music media. On his sixth album he sounds more like Pavement than he has in a long time, jettisoning some of the jammy tendencies of his last few records, where he indulged his early love of the Grateful Dead. The tongue-in-cheek jokiness is back in full, telegraphed by the nonsenical album title and a willingness to trade in short, unserious songs. What made Pavement great was the fact that Malkmus did not release anything that felt even slightly below par, a determination that relaxed after he disbanded the group. But sometimes pecadillos become habit, and even when the songs here sound light in execution, like the easygoing “The Janitor Revealed” or the self-consciously derivative “Lariat,” they connect immediately in that old Pavement way, noodling their way into your pleasure center while also, pardon the mixed metaphor, tickling your funny bone. I’m not entirely sure that the line “the 80s were the best decade for music evah” is meant to be a gag, but I have the right to think so. Speaking of careerism, Dee Dee, of the West Coast guitar pop project Dum Dum Girls, seems poised for stardom, and that’s a subjective observation, not an objective one. Her third full album is so far from the lo-fi murk of her 60s girl-group-obsessed debut that it qualifies as a different band, in my opinion, but, of course, there never was a “band” in the first place, just Dee Dee’s ambitions, which started simple through mimickry and pastiche. Too True is not only handsomely produced and proficiently sung, it takes in a broad range of modern rock styles, from the lush romanticism of Stevie Nicks to the monumental prog hooks of Florence + the Machine. Though the reverb that covered up her flaws on past records is still in evidence, it’s applied mainly to the ringing Edge-like guitars that tumble into place throughout the album. As the cover makes explicit, Dee Dee is positioning herself as a rock femme fatale in the classic sense, with all the appropriate vocal posturings that go with the role. Playing the part of the sultry rocker is a sure sign of careerist intentions, and if that means more music at this level of quality, I say go for it. Continue reading