QUICK SPINS: Brendan Benson, Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 22, 2014 8:45PM
As you move forward in your musical career do you hone your sound to be sharper and more focused or allow it to wander lazily around? Two artists take two different approaches to that question.
Ever since 1996's One Mississippi it's been obvious Brendan Benson's knack for a pop hook is a formidable gift. Yet despite a high-profile gig sharing the frontman duties with Jack White in their Raconteurs side project, Benson has never seemed to get the mainstream attention he deserved. Some artists, when faced with that, turn down a thornier path and eschew beauty for something more easily visceral (ahem, Alex Chilton). It's as if to say, "if you can't get my easy stuff then I'll just create stuff no one wants to get." Benson has instead chosen to record music of ever growing complexity without sacrificing his distinctive sonic sweetness that makes even bummer tunes instantly hummable. He's only sharpened his skills as the public spotlight has waned and I think this has allowed him to create music that grows ever more satisfying on every listen. You Were Right was created by a man with nothing to prove to himself so he can just allow the pleasure of his gift to flow directly into the resulting music. It sounds simple but it's actually really hard to create something that sounds so effortlessly enjoyable that stands up under repeated listens. But, like I said, Benson's knack for a pop hook is a formidable gift.
What is it about some aging indie rockers that causes them to embrace their jammier side? Recently Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo—better known for creating walls of noise—released an album that heavily channeled the influence of the Grateful Dead. And now Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks, while not as lackadaisical, certainly seem to enjoy playing sonic tribute to music more interested in the hippy-hippy shake than speaker-speaker shred. It's not like this is a brand new development, Pavement's Terror Twlight started him down this route and every succeeding Jicks album has moved further and further along towards the paisley campgrounds. And I'll admit that style of music is my particular kryptonite; I've spent lots of time submerged in it in the attempt to divine why so many folks groove off it, but I have yet to find that spark of understanding. So this means that digesting Wig Out At Jagbags (Christ, that name!) is a difficult experience for me. No one wants to see their cool cousin grow up into some touchy-feely New Ager but that's what the experience of listening to this album is for me. At least Malkmus doesn't have some greying ponytail, so there's that. And there are enjoyable moments on here amidst the more aimless melodies; when Malkmus revs the engine he can still spit out something as lively as the scrappy "Rumble At The Rainbo." The net result is an album that I find kind of annoying but keep listening to in hopes that cool dousing might poke through a little bit more upon repeated listens.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks play Lincoln Hall on February 20.