Twenty long years ago, when humans still walked on all fours and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was President, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus was the undisputed Grand Poobah of Indie Rock. Pavement had just released its slacker masterpiece, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with its great anthems “Gold Soundz,” “Range Life,” and “Cut Your Hair,” all of which demonstrated Malkmus’ uncanny ability to write bewitching songs complete with sly word play that sounded, well, tossed off. Like in a half hour, tops. While stoned. And riding his skateboard.
But two decades is a long time, and Pavement long ago sulked its acrimonious way out of existence, with Malkmus in the tour bus with a coat over his head, refusing to speak to his band mates while calling himself “the little bitch.” This would have been when—1999? By which time Pavement had been together 10 years. According to the calculations of some creationists, this made them even older than Earth. Me, I believe Malkmus was just burned out. He needed a new start, a shift in musical direction, and some fresh faces around the 4-foot tour bus bong. Like the song goes, flux = rad.
For a so-called slacker, Malkmus sure didn’t waste any time, putting together The Jicks by 2000. Since then the Jicks—they’re Malkmus on guitar and vocals, Mike Clark on keyboards and guitar, Joanna Bolme on bass, and Jake Morris on the skins—have released six very fine LPs, although I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say their recorded work hasn’t quite measured up to Pavement at its finest. What once sounded effortless now sounds labored, although to Malkmus’ credit the labor seems like one of love.