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Mirror Traffic
by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Matador
2011

Still Lazy After All These Years
by Matt Gonzales (0-1)

Recently, I was having drinks with a couple of friends who are both younger than me by a decade when I asked if they had listened to Mirror Traffic by Stephen Malkmus yet (nobody younger than 30 waits for an album’s release date anymore). “I’m not really familiar with him,” one of them said. “Neither am I,” said the other one.What about Pavement?”I know they’re supposed to be good, but I really haven’t listened to them.””Me neither.”

I sighed and let them carry the conversation elsewhere as I recalled the good old days (that’d be the ’90s), when my college buddies and I just knew Pavement was making the most significant rock music of our lives. And now, even in light of last year’s blazingly successful reunion tour, the slacker/indie/alternative rock icons are barely a blip on the radar for people like my young friends, who download the latest leaked albums by well-meaning copycats like Yuck, Mazes and god-knows-who-else faster than they can listen to it. It’s enough to make an aging hipster want to trade in his plastic-rimmed Ray-bans for some cut-rate bifocals and say to hell with it all.

It’s probably safe to assume this all bothers me more than it does Stephen Malkmus, who, on Mirror Traffic, continues to sound like he couldn’t be bothered to care much about anything — much less his old band’s legacy. He has described his new album as “sprawling…a little bit like [the infamously motley Pavement album] Wowee Zowee.” It’s an apropos description, too, even if it is weird to hear Malkmus — a minor deity in the hierarchy of nostalgia-shunning Generation X — admit to sounding like his old band. It’s Malkmus’s least-focused set of songs since he went solo more than 10 years ago, and the scattershot approach serves him well.

Mirror Traffic starts with a deliciously unpredictable 1-2-3 punch: the joyously poppy “Tigers” (which sounds like Belle & Sebastian at their most buoyant); the languorous, Dylanesque “No One Is (As I Are Be)” (on which Malkmus’s hushed vocals call to mind Will Oldham); and “Senator,” a song with a chorus so aggravatingly catchy you’ll be cursing Malkmus as you sing it in the shower and on your commute home.

The rest of Mirror Traffic unfolds like a gloriously carefree drug trip, full of seductive hooks, dreamy melodies, and, naturally, serpentine guitar solos. That’s not to say the songs are all mid-tempo and relaxed, but anyone familiar Malkmus knows that even when he sneers, he slouches. That reliable slacker swagger — in addition to some fine studio work by Beck, which encases the album in a tastefully glossy sheen — makes for a soundtrack that’s perfect for these end-of-summer days, when every barbecue could be your last, and daylight is in increasingly short supply.

Patience, Please
by Chris Overpeck (0-0)

With Mirror Traffic, Stephen Malkmus has released as many albums as Pavement (not including Westing [By Musket and Sextant] or Quarantine the Past– both compilations). The question of whether or not this new album is reminiscent of Pavement is virtually unanswerable and entirely irrelevant. His work as a solo artist is certainly not as important as his work with Pavement, but it’s more mature and polished. (I’ll concede that this could be viewed as a bad thing.)I personally don’t think the guy has ever put out anything subpar, but I’ve sensed a slow and steady decline since his fantastic self-titled solo debut. After a couple listens to his new record, I was fully prepared to announce that the trend has continued. By his own standards, this is sort of a long album and it drags slightly at times, but after a few listens, some of the tracks really start to stand out. Patience is the key with this album.The obvious and immediate highlight, “Senator”, could easily be the soundtrack for any number of scandalous (and probably steadfastly pro-family) politicians, with its naughty lyric (“What the senator wants is a blowjob”). It’s a quality tune, but like many lead singles, it isn’t very subtle and suffers from multiple listens. A deeper dive into the album reveals its best tracks. “Forever 28” (now that’s a clever title) best showcases Malkmus’s signature guitar riffs. “Stick Figures in Love” is the quintessential pop song. “Spazz” is the closest he gets to Pavement territory, mostly due to
its youthful rhythm and snarky lyrics, and it’s an absolute beauty.I suppose I should point out that this album is produced by Beck
Hansen, but it’s really only relevant because of Beck’s own celebrity.
His touch is only evident on the excellent (but terribly titled) “No
One Is (As I Are Be)”. Otherwise, this doesn’t feel much different
than his previous self-produced efforts.At this stage in Malkmus’ career, I doubt he can hope to win many new
fans, but Mirror Traffic is an absolute standout in his solo career.

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