STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS, ‘Wig Out at Jagbags’
“Wig Out at Jagbags” is the first Jicks album since Stephen Malkmus reunited with his old Pavement buddies for a tour, and its emphasis on wit, wordplay and concision could be residual effects of revisiting his classic indie-rock songs from the ‘90s. Though this, the sixth Jicks album, still has some bluesy chord changes, heavy guitar solos, and dissonant freakouts, “Wig Out” is not nearly as jammy as 2008’s “Real Emotional Trash” or 2003’s “Pig Lib.” The band recorded “Wig Out” in Denmark while Malkmus, 47, and his family lived in Berlin. (They have since returned to Portland, Ore.)
The funny “Lariat” and catchy “The Janitor Revealed” possess Pavement’s breezy charm, and the album is dense with great Malkmus quips. With its inside-basketball jokes (including the easy-listening, ironically groovy “J Smoov”), and its jabs at, among other things, hipster nostalgia for the Pavement era and Foxygen, “Wig Out at Jagbags” is Malkmus at his ironic, comic best.
— Steve Klinge
LIL B, ‘05 F --- Em’
Bowie may have started 2013’s most worthwhile album trend — no massive prerelease buildup — with Beyoncé following in hot, top-selling pursuit, but Lil B has exceeded even these superstars with his own massive F-bomb. On Christmas Eve, sans any advance warning, the controversial (remember 2011’s “I’m Gay (I’m Happy)?”), Twitter-savvy rapper / producer dropped “05,” a mixtape of 101 new tracks, free, in the spirit of the holiday.
No hype could prepare you for almost six hours of music, let alone Lil B’s spaced-out atmospherics and cutting, sung-spoken flow, with lyrics often critical of the hip-hop game and the cliché of rap’s violent subject matter. The eerily operatic “Praying 4 A Brick,” the airily soulful “Rob the Jeweler,” and the loopy “Cocaine Option” allow Lil B to sound off in menacing, echo-heavy manner. But tracks like “I Own Swag” and “Bloggers Anthem” are somewhat sillier. Then again, you’re never quite certain whether Lil B is serious or sarcastic. That’s part of the intrigue. You’re unsure what he’s griping about during the driving “Bar Mitzvah,” but its fluid bass and celebratory Sound of Philly-style strings are worth sitting through 100 other songs to get to.
— A.D. Amorosi
DAN MAY, ‘Beacon’
“Nothing good comes easy,” Dan May sings over the fiddle-accented folk-rock of “Easy.” That may often be the case, but on his fifth album, the former opera singer from Drexel Hill, who didn’t shift careers until his 40s, again makes the singer-songwriter game look effortless. “Beacon” shines with all the qualities that made May’s first four albums stand out. He sings in a warm baritone, reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot and without any operatic flourishes, over graceful folk-rock arrangements with rootsy embellishments. The songs, meanwhile, are just as unaffected and inviting: They are immediately accessible but lyrically meaty, and invariably come with a memorable hook. That goes for the lighter fare like “Magpie,” a bluesy paean to a South Street pie shop, and numbers that extend across the emotional spectrum and on to heavier topics, from the down-to-earth philosophizing of “The Less We Know,” the loss of innocence explored in “Ring Around the Rosie,” and the poignant portrait painted in “Mother’s Day.” May also deftly pulls off a twist on Woody Guthrie, as “This Land” provides the set’s most pointed social commentary.
— Nick Cristiano