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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Mirror Traffic

[Matador; 2011]

By ; August 22, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Stephen Malkmus has come a long way since Pavement went on indefinite hiatus in 1999. Strange as it seems, he has now been out of Pavement almost as long as he was in it, a fact that still feels incorrect even after I’ve written it down. While the slacker king will forever be linked to the seminal band, much of what came to epitomize Pavement has been gradually stripped from Malkmus’s work. Over the past decade, Malkmus has extended his musical reach well beyond the confines of Pavement’s lo-fi, noise rock sound. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine Pavement partaking in the synthesizer dabblings of 2005’s Face The Truth. That’s not to say there are no commonalities between his work in Pavement and his solo output. However, as with any number of great songwriters who have stepped out of their original outfit, it seems fairer to simply consider Malkmus’s solo work on its own goals and merits rather than how it fares in the shadow of his old band.

What becomes evident very quickly on Mirror Traffic is how much poppier – and perhaps funnier – the album is than anything Malkmus has released since his self-titled solo debut. At various points, the album treads into classic rock territory, which is not meant to be interpreted as a criticism. Malkmus, seemingly effortlessly, produces profound melodies reminiscent of any number of influences and combines them with his typically humorous turn of phrase. Such is the case with the chiming, Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque opener “Tigers,” on which Malkmus sings, “I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks, a scary thought in the 2Ks.” Mirror Traffic is littered with these kinds of pop gems: “Stick Figures In Love” – a likely candidate for single consideration – is an upbeat, groovy tune with a great buzz-y guitar lead on the bridge, and “Long Hard Book” has a chorus that shimmers in a manner reminiscent of the Verve’s “Space And Time.” Closing track “Gorgeous George” not only rollicks like a Desire-era Bob Dylan song, but it even has a similar meandering narrative.

Better still is lead single “Senator.” While the song has attracted attention for the much ballyhooed lyric, “I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blow job,” it is more than just one great quasi-political gag. Much in the same way Roger Daltrey aped an amphetamine-driven stammer on “My Generation,” Malkmus sends-up the line, “Smoking weed in our truck, the cops pull up, how can they not know? It was so so so so so so invisible” with a plodding stutter. It’s those subtle add-ons that give Mirror Traffic a complexity not generally associated with Malkmus.

In the context of his solo catalog, Mirror Traffic stands out as not only his most consistently rewarding release, but also perhaps the best starting point for those unfamiliar with his solo career. The album takes many of Malkmus’ favorite indie and classic rock influences and creates something fresh and dazzling. There’s little doubt Malkmus has hit a mid-career stride that hopefully can last for several more releases. And hell, if you want to disregard my advice and compare the Mirror Traffic to Pavement’s records, the album stands up pretty well against those too.


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