Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Mirror Traffic
Mirror Traffic, the fifth overall solo album from Stephen Malkmus and third credited with his backup band, The Jicks, opens with the line "I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks/a scary thought/in the 2Ks." It is a cheeky ode to the 90's, the decade in which the footwear, Malkmus, and Mirror Traffic's producer, Beck, all came into fashion. Lucky for us, Malkmus and Beck have had more staying power than the Birkenstock. It's funny, these once indie posterboys for the Slacker Decade have proven to be anything but slouches, working consistently while circumventing convention and now making some of their finest music nearly two decades later. There is probably a lesson in there somewhere.
But Stephen Malkmus is not interested in teaching us lessons, even if it is apparent on Mirror Traffic that he has learned a few himself over the years. Perhaps now that the looming spectre of a Pavement reunion has come and gone, Malkmus has settled into his skin feeling like himself again. Gone are the nervy, extended jams and psychedelic overtones of his previous LP, Real Emotional Trash. These new songs feel confident and concise, affable and effortless. And it sounds like he's having a good time.
But that doesn't mean all is peachy either, thankfully. If the first half of the record contains more offbeat energy -- the blasting “Senator” is Malkmus’ most political song and the perfect theme for the Summer of Scandal, while “Spazz” is gleefully summed up by its title -- then the second half settles down into more breezy indie pop and bittersweet folk, where Malkmus is free to explore his midlife angst. "Forever 28" is a surprisingly chipper ditty that seethes with bitterness, while “All Over Gently” tosses off a relationship with lines like “sweet little sassafras/I want you out by July.” Fatherhood also provides some complicated subject matter on “Share the Red” when Malkmus tells us “I can see the truth/is wasted on the youth/parental magic/is wasting away” before it closes with the words “you have no idea what sets you apart.” But in typical Malkmus fashion we are unsure if the sentiment is positive or pejorative.
Beck’s production touches are signature -- a lazy Rhodes here, a quirky horn melody there, and perhaps the first pedal steel on a Malkmus album -- however they never become distracting and only enhance the often tongue-in-cheek nature of the songs. All of which adds up to Malkmus’ best album since his self-titled solo debut. Somewhere on the record Stephen Malkmus sings “I'm a one-trick pony/and I can't survive.” He is dead wrong about the first part. Let's hope he’s wrong about the second part as well. So far, so good.
-- Dan Wilcox, KCRW Music Host
Mirror Traffic will be available to stream on demand from August 15 through August 28, 2011. The album will be released on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.
Listen to/Watch entire show:
Artist website: http://stephenmalkmus.com/
2. No One is (As I Are Be)
4. Brain Gallop
6. Asking Price
7. Stick Figures In Love
9. Long Hard Book
10. Share the Red
11. Tune Grief
12. Forever 28
13. All Over Gently
14. Fall Away
15. Gorgeous Georgie