With a title that nods to Dischord band Dag Nasty and oblique references to Pavement’s recent reunion tour this album says a lot about Malkmus’s attitude to musical nostalgia.
The single from the album ‘Lariat’, currently on rotation on 6 Music, contains another nostalgic moment with him singing about growing up “listening to the music from the best decade ever” (he’s talking about the 80s). I have no doubt that Malkmus genuinely loves that decade’s music the best, but the closest musical counterpoints for this album are the 1970s (you can hear a bit Zappa here, a bit of Steely Dan there across the album) and the 1990s when Pavement were the most interesting indie-rock band on the scene. In ‘Shibboleth’ we even get the Jicks channeling the Pixies through the Malkmus filter.
The album, recorded during a spell in Berlin, seems to find Malkmus at his most relaxed and positive in years. Other than the aforementioned dig at his own, and others, band reunions (a dig that comes across as pretty playful) this is a pretty positive and good natured record. Indeed, in recent interviews about the recording Malkmus admits to being friends with Fran Healy of Travis and even got his mate to source a local horn section for the album. The horn section is used well on a few songs and adds a nice dimension to the sound (especially on the excellent ‘Chartjunk’) although in other respects there is little here to surprise anyone familiar with his solo or late Pavement work.
The band manage to produce a sound that is simultaneously slick (these are good players) but loose enough to retain some of the slacker qualities Malkmus is known for. New drummer Jake Morris has pretty big shoes to fill, following on from Janet Weiss and John Moen, as the band’s sticksman. But he acquits himself well and there is no noticeable drop in quality in this area.
Overall this is a very enjoyable record, perhaps the most consistently likable Malkmus solo album to date, and to my personal preference is mercifully short on some of the more laboured guitar workouts that tainted a lot of his mid-period solo work. What it does lack is the couple of killer must-listen tracks that you’d be sure to include on a best-of album. The singles are good, and the quality is consistently high, but I’m not sure I could pick out many individual songs to include among his career best.
However, that doesn’t take anything away from this being a very welcome release from the band, sometimes consistency and likability is enough to make an album a success.
By Dorian Rogers