Release Date: Aug 23, 2011
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
He doesn't look a day over 37, but Stephen Malkmus is the grand old man of indie rock. With Pavement in the Nineties, he gave underground noise a shot of romance and style, setting the banquet table for Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire, and Pavement's 2010 reunion tour soaked up a tidal wave of love. On his third disc with Portland cronies the Jicks, Malkmus, 45, revels in this emeritus status, luxuriating in Seventies guitar majesty and irony-free gorgeousness.
Tempting though it may be, Mirror Traffic is not quite Stephen Malkmus' response to the 2010 reunion of Pavement. Malkmus and the Jicks entered the studio with Beck prior to Pavement’s international 2010 tour, so any passing similarities Mirror Traffic may have to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain aren’t a reflection of his ‘90s band bleeding back into the Jicks but perhaps an indication that he was now ready to scale back the thick guitar haze of the 2000s and return to easy elegance. Certainly, the Jicks rage and roar -- “Senator” stutters from riff to solo, “Tune Grief” gallops along headstrong -- but the winding jams have been cut away so the brief blasts of sonic ballast are one of the many colors on an album with a rather large palette.
Alt-rock lifer Stephen Malkmus’ new album Mirror Traffic was recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood with the Jicks and was already in the can prior to the triumphant Pavement reunion world tour of 2010. Having spent a solo career eagerly trying to put artistic space between him and his former group, Malkmus has cranked out five critically acclaimed yet modest-selling albums of strong hooks and virtuoso musicianship with as much ramshackle charm and distinctive oblique wit as the aforementioned lo-fi champions. Unlike previous self-produced outings, this one features 90s indie-rock contemporary turned producer Beck Hanson - who recently oversaw Thurston Moore’s superb Demolished Thoughts - at the control desk, and rather than emphasise the Jicks’ weird idiosyncrasies as one might expect, Beck helps deliver the closest thing we’re going to get to the classic Pavement sound.
Sometimes, the best way to get over the past is to embrace it. At least, that’s one way to explain what Stephen Malkmus has been up to over the last year, as he’s given his longtime fans what they wanted for so long with 2010’s Pavement reunion tour and releasing a return-to-form album like Mirror Traffic. While the last days Pavement seemed, at least as legend has it, a burden for him, Malkmus’ work with the Jicks has often come off like a reaction to his previous gig, almost willfully steering clear of Pavement’s in-spite-of-themselves underground anthems by going in less instantly gratifying directions.
When Pavement first appeared on the music scene in 1989, they seemed like they would burst and flame forever. Listening to their first few EPs, and then the long-player Slanted and Enchanted, you might have been listening to the surface of the sun — molten caverns, bright lakes of lava, hissing gas, and solar flares. The band had smelted the very language of rock ‘n’ roll, to the point where each song sounded like creation itself, combustible energy, all quick shifts in tempo and tone, soaring solos, and fuzzy meltdowns.
If Stephen Malkmus as the head of Pavement was the charming (if aloof) slacker genius, then Stephen Malkmus the solo artist has been something more stubborn and frustrating. As the face of Pavement, he may have seemed too carefree, but the music never reflected that shrug. His solo work is another story. It's been solid, but nearly all of it (with the exception of the unpredictably great Face the Truth) is good but not great.
The fifth album from the Jicks – who have now been going as long as Stephen Malkmus's endlessly feted Pavement did – is a treat, albeit not often terribly surprising, and perhaps a little overlong. That said, lead track and recent single Tigers is an exception on those last two counts: as attention-grabbing opening gambits go, "I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks" scores high, and the song – a gorgeously peppy, countrified indie-rocker that recalls Pavement's glory days – is, if anything, over too soon. Mirror Traffic perhaps dials back the 70s jam-band feel of previous Jicks outings, though there are still some great old-timey guitar wigouts (Brain Gallop, Spazz), plus some lovely quieter moments (Asking Price, Share the Red) and a couple more full-pelt pop triumphs (Stick Figures in Love, Tune Grief).
Though there were some doubters, last year’s Pavement tour was a largely fondly received reunion, inspiring even those who might normally yell “SELL-OUTS” and “INSINCERE MONEY MAKING EXERCISE” to momentarily abandon their cynicism in order to dust off their fried eggs t-shirts and join the ride. Perhaps the saturation of reunion tours has become so great that nobody bats a sceptical eyelid anymore. More likely, however, is that music fans hold Pavement in a uniquely affectionate regard.
Listening to Stephen Malkmus’ recorded music is like secretly peering in on his band playing loose and contentedly in a lonely garage—the listener is just a lucky witness to the band’s own infectious fun. That casual genius remains apparent on Mirror Traffic. A sloppy and inebriated brand of psych-rock still serves as an ideal backdrop to S.M.’s hilariously irreverent storytelling—half silly, half serious and often poignant.
After reuniting with his old band Pavement and tapping Beck as a producer, the slacker king has traded paisley-print guitar freak-outs for faster, breezier pop songs. That means his funniest lyrics are no longer buried under noodly solos: ”I cannot even do one sit-up,” he sings on one track. ”Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie.” Still miss his psychedelic side? Listen to ”Senator,” a classic-rock tribute to ”smoking weed in our truck.” B+ Download These:Vintage rocker SenatorPretty folkie No One Is (As I Are Be) .
Following the breakup of Pavement, frontman Stephen Malkmus supplemented his name with an ampersand and plurally titled backing band on more or less all of his subsequent releases, a practice long adopted by countless classic rock musicians (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, etc. ). This throwback band name, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, seems most appropriate on their latest album, Mirror Traffic, the band’s fifth record (give or take a few contradictory album labelings) and the one most rooted in traditional, classic rock songwriting.
From Mirror Traffic’s very first loping riff, that which opens the album on easy-going country jaunt “Tigers” and is accompanied by pedal steel, it’s clear this is going to be an enjoyable album. “This record is relatively approachable,” Stephen Malkmus admits in the press materials for his fifth album and first since Pavement’s triumphant reunion tour last year. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Beck, Mirror Traffic is varied to boot, dabbling in slacker folk (“No One Is (As I Are Be)”), adrenalized, blow-job-themed rock ‘n’ roll (“Senator”) and instrumental psych jams (“Jumblegloss”), to name but a few of the styles featured.
As we spend the next nine years critically dissecting and reassessing the 1990s, let's agree to make one historical revision: The lo-fi auteurs of the era-- your Malkmuses, your Pollards, your Elephant Sixers-- were not in fact "slackers," despite the prevailing label/insult of the the day. Truthfully, their lack of studio polish was not a matter of laziness, ironic aesthetic, or poverty, but a coping mechanism for the unstoppable torrent of melodies, words, and ideas exploding from each songwriter's brain. No time for getting that song exactly right-- on to the next one.
Be gone ye badly-dressed oiks with wacky hair, relocating to east London in the misguided hope of living your post-[a]Pavement[/a] fantasies in sub-par slacker bands with zero intent. In what can only be a blessing from the indie gods, [a]Stephen Malkmus[/a] – the man who once defied any NME reader to think of a word that rhymed with [a]Pavement[/a] and then chastised the poor kid who wrote to the Letters pages with ‘enslavement’ – is back to show you all how it’s actually done. Malkmus may have put the kibosh on new material from his former band following their live reunion, opting instead to embark on this Beck-produced album with [a]The Jicks[/a], but ‘[b]Tigers[/b]’, the lead single, bears more than a passing resemblance to the alma mater that made Malkmus such a revered figure.
Nearly 20 years after helming Pavement's landmark Slanted and Enchanted, Stephen Malkmus has maintained a steady presence in the indie scene, cracking wise over a continuous stream of varyingly smart material. Mirror Traffic, his fifth album with faithful cohorts the Jicks, lands somewhere in the middle of his output, an album that, despite production work from the normally conspicuous Beck, scarcely strays from what's become the Malkmus template. Most of this is due to the man himself, who, despite a nasal voice and a decidedly slight presence, dominates any song he sings on.
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS play the Phoenix September 21. See listing. Rating: NNN This is the album Pavement fanatics have been waiting 10 years for. After a decade of rejecting everything that people loved about the iconic 90s slacker-rock band, Malkmus has dropped the jam-band noodling and returned to writing understated, ramshackle pop tunes.
Almost as exciting for Pavement fans as an actual reunion (which duly happened last year, on their 21st anniversary) was the news that Stephen Malkmus would be enlisting Beck as a producer on his fifth album with the Jicks. And what a fine pairing. Gone are the meandering, proggy excesses of 2008's Real Emotional Trash, and in their place are sharper, melody-driven tracks that foreground Malkmus's distinctive oblique wit.
The modern movement of music is definitely not a bad thing by any means. Sometimes we fail to recognize that as far as musicians are concerned, music is always progressing. Sure, purists choose the vantage that a band’s original music is always the best: if it’s anything after the first few albums, it ain’t as good. This goes the saying for many bands, even the greatest ones.
It seems too soon to refer to Stephen Malkmus and producer Beck Hansen as “grand old men of the ‘90s college rock scene”–anything quite so moth-ballish would belie the vitality of Malkmus’s fifth post-Pavement outing–but the collaboration seems perfect, inevitable, and long overdue. Splitting time between fractured indie rock (“Stick Figures in Love,” “Forever 28”) and laid-back grooves (“No One Is [As I Are Be],” “Gorgeous George”), the new Jicks album benefits from Beck’s imaginative treatment, which foregrounds headphone moments while not stinting on pure, spontaneous rock goodness, and Malkmus’s songwriting, which sounds inspired and confident. This fresh inspiration is most evident on the album’s first single, the beautifully dissonant, exuberant “Senator,” with its now-famous punchline chorus (“What the senator wants is a blow job”) that foretells the hell/hand-basket future of the U.
Likely to tempt fair-weather fans back to the Malkmus name. Louis Pattison 2011 Since the dissolution of Pavement, the band that he fronted up until their fairly acrimonious split in the wake of 1999’s Terror Twilight, Stephen Malkmus has appeared eager to put artistic space between him and his former group. A procession of solo records has charted his journey away from Pavement’s quirky, collegiate indie-rock sound – notably, 2008’s Real Emotional Trash, which brought a hippyish, jam-band quality to the familiar Malkmus witticisms, songs sprawling out to six, seven or even 10 minutes in length.
"There's no alacrity," the singer-songwriter avers, and, boy, he means it. Buried at the end of Mirror Traffic, his fifth album since Pavement dissolved in the late nineties, 'Fall Away' does all Stephen Malkmus can do in 2011: marry an aphorism—preferably one with a polysyllabic—to a melody shaped like an isosceles triangle, attach a serpentine guitar lick, and avoid tripping over the loping rhythm. Aging rockers revert to conversational cadences as unavoidably as they keep to one glass of wine before dinner; the trouble with Malkmus is how quickly he lost interest in the breathless tunelets with which Pavement carved its initial reputation.