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Mirror Traffic
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Mirror Traffic

Released 23 August 2011
Producer Beck
Label Matador
Length 50:35
Genre Indie, alternative rock
Website stephenmalkmus.com
72

Stephen Malkmus: The face that launched a thousand riffs. The ex-Pavement frontman, and all-round indie demi-god is back with the fifth album in the company of his post-Pavement troupe The Jicks.

To those who know, no explanation is necessary. To those who don't, no explanation will suffice. This bastardised maxim could well describe the importance of Stephen Malkmus to the indie-guitar scene. For each loyal devotee there are umpteen who have simply never heard of the man.

Pavement, whose origins date back to Stockton, California in 1989, were championed by many (including notably Kurt Cobain) as the true embodiment of ‘90s indie music. Albums like Slanted and Enchanted and 1995's Wowee Zowee were clever, diverse and quintessentially garage.

But that was neither today nor yesterday, and much water has flowed beneath the bridge since then. Pavement split after a decade, before briefly reforming in 2010. And in the meantime, Malkmus has been busy ploughing his own furrow with much success.

Although not fully credited with their role in 2001's Stephen Malkmus, The Jicks and Stephen have now been together as long as Pavement were. So it really is high time that we moved on!

So here we are in shiny, high-definition 2012 and with fifteen new tracks to digest. Within them we find some of the expected staples; buckets of minor chords, bundles of wry lyrics and a barrage of busy drums and intricate fret-work. However, the album as a whole does come off as being quite subtle and slow-burning compared to previous fare.

Not that you'd get that from the opening salvo. 'Tigers' bounds through your speakers with trademark Malkmus riffage to then deliver the opening line, "I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks, a scary thought.." It is equally lovely and lively as an opener. 'Senator' also evokes shades of Pavement's Brighten the Corners album with its crunchy distortion and playful vocals; "I know what the Senator wants, what the Senator wants is a blow-job."

Mirror Traffic as a whole doesn't appear quite so whole as some of their other work. There is a scattergun theme, playfully noted in the inlay, regarding camping. And sprinkled here and there throughout the album you will find references to camping attire, adventure games and recreational pursuits. But gone are the linear narratives from albums past like 'Jenny & The Ess-Dog' and 'Trojan Curfew' to name but two.

That said, there is more than enough here for the fan to happily salivate over. 'Spazz', 'Share the Red' and 'Forever 28' are some really great songs here, and they are very much steeped in the "Malkmus way". If you like his work already then this album is a must. And with such an untethered approach to his guitar-work, and the band seamlessly in his slipstream, these songs have enormous potential to melt faces in a live capacity!

However, if you've never boarded the Pavement Train, or even heard of the Malkmus Replacement Bus Service then this is probably not the stop you want to get on at. You should first dip your toe in Pavement's Wowee Zowee/Brighten the Corners or Stephen Malkmus' self-titled effort.

For those, like me, who've been riding this sucker long enough that we should really know better, sit back, enjoy, and let's not take it for granted.

- D. Egan