I’m enjoying the cover of Mirror Traffic (it reminds me of the work of Jeff Jordan, although far less surreal) before Tiger comes zipping along, its taught guitar crumbling to a slow stand still before leading in stripped back No One Is (As I Are Be). The coda of which, a lovely distant muted brass and some mournful harmonica, gives the first hint of the presence of (recently very prolific) Beck as producer. Before long we crash in to the ‘rockin’ Senator, which comes replete with all the familiar Malkmus tropes: wordplay, references to marijuana and wry lyrical commentary.
This is fifth post-Pavement album, and the band definitely sound a little rougher around the edges than on previous release, but he sounds like he is having a lot more fun, it really is infectious. It is likely that Beck’s, ear for alt-pop arrangement, was instrumental in stopping these songs from ending up over-long or indulgent (any more so than Malkmus ordinarily is). There is plenty of Beck on here with squelchy bass, idiosyncratic flourishes twist and turn on Long Hard Book. The result is an album that plays to Malkmus’ strengths and for the most part reins in the prog tendencies.
Mirror Traffic swings between poppier refrains and the typically ‘knowing’ lyrics I’ve always associated with Malkmus, but it certainly ‘rocks out’ a lot less often. Outside Senator, Spazz and Tune Grief there are very few incidences of even an Indie ‘rawk’ out (even then the latter two tracks barely clock in at the two minute thirty mark). These songs unravel and reveal themselves this might be more fitting for a man who has been in the game for 22 years. Even Spazz an angular, time-signature changing romp through two minutes and thirty-eight seconds of something approaching punk is pure Malkmus, taut, lyrically sharp.
Ironically this version of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, all laid back West Coast rock descending in to sunny lo-fi, and ‘easy going,’ has produced the most tightest most engaging album post-Pavement to date. Which isn’t to say that there are descents in to guitar noodliness, (*coughAll Over Gently!cough*). Malkmus, always unflappable (except when writing blog posts), continues to sound comfortable, still making music despite the laid back slacker mythology that surrounded Pavement and followed Malkmus him into his solo career.
Mirror Traffic by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is out on 22 August
This post originally appeared on The Fugitive Motel on 25 August 2011