Friday, August 26, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Mirror Traffic

Fans of '90s alt-rock were justifiably excited when it was announced last year that Ex-Pavement frontman and current Jicks leader Stephen Malkmus was heading into the studio to record a new album, with Beck attached to produce. Time may have dulled that enthusiasm a bit (goddamn time dulls everything doesn't it), but the newly released result of that meeting of the minds, while not a revelation, nevertheless remains a completely enjoyable and endlessly listenable batch of songs.

Mirror Traffic (originally entitled L.A. Guns, but changed due to the possibility of a legal dispute with the hair-metal band of the same name), is not radically unlike any of the other Jick's albums, or even later era Pavement, rocking and funny throughout, but with an effective undercurrent of emotional resonance. Those wishing for a return to the rougher, unpolished sound of Slanted and Enchanted may be disappointed, but Mirror Traffic still boasts all of Malkmus' off-kilter pop song-craft, as well as his notoriously obtuse lyricism. Producer Beck, whose own output has grown somewhat stale over the last few years, mainly just ventures to stay out of the way of Malkmus' tunes, resulting in a crisp, accessible sound. Clocking it at around 50 minutes, the album's a little on the long side, but stops short of wearing out its welcome.

Whereas much of the Jick's material, and indeed much of Pavement's, paints loving portraits of disaffected, directionless youth, Mirror Traffic seems to find Malkmus grappling with middle age on songs like "Long Hard Book" and "Share the Red", although, as mentioned before, deciphering his lyrics is a continual challenge and one that's mostly a waste of time. Better then, to just put interpretation aside and enjoy the music. You'll be glad you did.

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