When Pavement broke in with 1992’s “Slanted and Enchanted,” critics coined the term “slacker rock” to describe its underproduced, willfully imperfect sound.
Singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus has released almost a dozen albums since — with Pavement, then the Jicks, who play The Neptune Saturday — cementing his legacy as a vital, unique American songwriter.
Yet the misnomer persists.
“Maybe it’s the tone of my voice,” he speculates via telephone from his Portland home. “It’s a little defeated, a little sarcastic… sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.”
Indeed, Malkmus talks like he sings, meandering from one subject to another with the slow, deadpan drawl and colorful vocabulary that made him a poster boy of indie rock’s golden era.
Most likely, though, it’s because he’s always made it look easy — and still does.
This year’s “Wig Out At Jagbags” is the Jicks’ sixth record — meaning they’ve outlasted Pavement — but that’s not the only reason it’s notable.
Where past LPs like 2003’s “Pig Lib” and 2008’s “Real Emotional Trash” showcased Malkmus’ guitar prowess, this one emphasizes his band’s versatility, situating jazzy rave-ups (“Chartjunk”) and soulful slow jams (“J Smoov”) next to their usual off-kilter pop songs (“Planetary Motion”).
Thematically, “Jagbags” is music about music — not just making it, but discovering, appreciating and contextualizing it.
“When you’re younger, you feel like you’re reinventing the wheel,” explains Malkmus, 47. “That’s good — it’s how we get innovation — but it’s a hard worldview to keep up over time. You find out everything’s interconnected.”
“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever,” goes the refrain of “Lariat,” the first single — speaking, perhaps, for every generation of musicians and music fans reflecting on its formative years.
In a similar vein, the sweetly satirical “Rumble at the Rainbo,” below, at once lampoons and empathizes with punk rock dinosaurs.
“Come slam-dancing with some ancient dudes,” the verse jokes. “No new material, just cowboy boots.” But the chorus reassures: “Can you remember the thrill and the rush? You’re not out of touch.”
“Before Pavement, I was into West Coast hardcore,” Malkmus recalls. “I just loved its aggression. Eventually, I grew out of it — I guess I was a poseur — but I’m still nostalgic for how stoked I once was. Listening to old things you love, it’s there forever. Anyone can relate to that.”
Keeping with this backwards-gazing motif, the Jicks’ current setlists are rumored to include a Pavement relic or two. Show up early for Malkmus acolytes Speedy Ortiz, performing witty, noisy pop-rock with lots of personality.
As for that pesky “S” word…
“The slacker thing doesn’t come up as much anymore as it did with Pavement, but it’s still common among the media and even our fans that we don’t try hard, that we’re just taking the piss… but really, it’s impossible not to care when it’s your job… when it’s something you spend so much time on.”
8 p.m. Saturday at The Neptune Theatre, 1303 NE 45th St, Seattle; $17 (206-682-1414 or stgpresents.org)