Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

4/5

2011

After the propulsive yet jammy Real Emotional Trash, it seemed Stephen Malkmus began to pine for his past, getting back together with Pavement for an international tour in 2010 and entering the studio with fellow California slacker icon Beck to record the Jicks’ follow-up, Mirror Traffic. As much as Malkmus might reflect on his career circa 1994, though, he’s nearly two decades older, and this isn’t some forced attempt to seem younger. Just like Beck, he’s aging gracefully, so even though his music is informed by his past, it’s not as rough and fractured, bearing the craftsmanship of someone who’s been at this for a while. Likewise, Mirror Traffic ends up sounding like a more mature take on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee, where fuzzy garage rock, buzzed-out ballads, warm country overtones and other shifts in style all play off each other harmoniously.

For his part, Beck doesn’t so much add elements in as take them away, reigning in Malkmus’ excessive tendencies and letting his songwriting stand as is. Good thing too, because Mirror Traffic‘s songs have a casual, friendly charm, a smile rather than a smirk, something that too much complexity would ruin. Though the shifts in style and tone here aren’t as wild or diverse as Crooked Rain or Wowee, Mirror Traffic retains those albums’ freewheeling spirit. But it’s the songs’ charm and casualness that bind together the album, making the jumps between the sun-kissed opener “Tigers,” the lovely, finger-plucked “No One Is (As I Are Be)” and the rollicking “Senator” feel natural. There aren’t enough jaw-dropping moments on here to make this album feel like a real career highlight for Malkmus, but it’s a tribute to the man’s skill that even the more disposable songs on here like “Long Hard Book” and the spastic “Spazz” are thoroughly well-crafted and listenable. If at 15 songs and 50 minutes, the record feels a little overlong—lopping off 3 or 4 songs would have made this a tighter set—it’s never a laborious listen. Instead, Mirror Traffic is consistently relaxed and playful yet, thanks to Beck’s punchy production, never formless. Moreover, it finally sounds like Malkmus found that “range life” he sang about all those years ago, and though it likely won’t win him new fans, Traffic is an approachable and tender album, one that is quietly satisfying.

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Posted on August 23, 2011, in Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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