Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks | Pig Lib | Matador

One might guess the Jicks that Stephen Malkmus hangs with on his new album Pig Lib are his new crew, but they’re actually the same keyboardist and bassist from Malkmus’ bull’s-eye, of a self-titled 2001 album. But too bad the backup has to stand in the shadow of an indie legend like former Pavement frontman Malkmus, whose wowie-zowie spirit flits throughout Pig Lib with an unfortunately unchecked languidness. Think mellow – mellow like a sea sponge on Sunday.

Pavement fans will fondly miss the zippy playfulness of Malkmus’ earlier work. Too often, Pig Lib’s tracks sputter into dully dreamy ditties like “Water and a Seat” and “Ramp of Death.” The titles alone don’t inspire finger snapping or whistling, and the melodies drone into dead ends that leave the listener skipping ahead to the next track.

There are exceptions, of course. “Animal Midnight,” in which Malkmus jokingly intones, “I wonder sometimes what you’re made of/ Is it rayon or is it dust?” resonates pleasantly despite its mellowness. The same track, a thoughtful rumination on relationships disguised beneath Malkmus’ characteristically cryptic lyrics, features as rocking an organ solo as a pop song can have. “Witch Mountain Bridge” simultaneously confuses and delights, and the nearly 10-minute-long “1 Percent of One” squeaks perfectly with Malkmus’ well-honed falsetto.

For the most part, however, Pig Lib begs the listener to ask if maybe Malkmus just got carried away with his own sense of weirdness and forgot to be good.

Don’t doubt Malkmus. He’s far too well-versed in indie to falter again. But with certain exceptions, Pig Lib is too smooth a road to compare with Malkmus’ happily bumpy career with Pavement.

[Drew Mackie is fluent in indie and currently attending screamo classes.]