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. And so it is, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus – regardless of his adventures into the modern world – will always be held up against and contrasted by the light of his work with Pavement. Some will say to call it ‘slacker rock’ is wrong, some will ask where Wowee Zowee went and others wont even let you get past Slanted & Enchanted before declaring it all ends from there. But if allowed to digress and resolve, Malkmus’ work after Pavement is surely worth a wealthy amount of attention too.
With the Jicks, 2008’s Real Emotional Trash was a stridently rough-around-the-edges listen that featured a long-play of embellished rock. While Malkmus always intends for the music to be fresh and inviting, a lot of the segments maintained a curve far too heady for some to enjoy. Now, Malkmus has paired up with the Jicks for Mirror Traffic: an album that deflects with a peaceful sequencing and a vast assortment of ideas. The magic of Pavement was the fact that they enjoyed presenting the music in its most unaffected state: create it, mash it but allow the decorations to come from the listener’s mind. Malkmus, along with producer Beck, direct the music on Mirror Traffic with playful lyrics and flourishing styles that versatile and extended enough, shine with ease.
The jagged style that Malkmus has always reserved is still on full display. On “Brain Gallop” the introductory verses lead into a menacing guitar melody that finds Malkmus on ascension to a falsetto setting. The climax lets the bottom out with superb calming motion and the music intertwines back into a slimy, grimy low-down stomp. And on one of the rare instances where the solo calls for a rousing hit Malkmus’ guitar shreds away the tenderness for gritty bite. It’s as if Malkmus is enjoying both his presence and skill with ease and why not, the music is in immense pleasure because of it.
The songs feature a dissimilar collection of sounds and styles that compliment each other well. On “Asking Price” Malkmus contradicts the music when singing “the distortion is way too clear,” before slicing the song off and in retrospect, the noodling style of “Stick Figure in Love” is a refreshing escape. Driving and figuring in the amount of flair that Malkmus packs on the guitar, the songs melt within and around each other with the guitar always in prime control. All of this hardly recognizes the abundant sparkle “Tigers” opens the album with. With Malkmus singing, “We are the tigers…change is all we need to improve” his guitar tackles the melody, counter melody and harmony with effervescent shimmer. Sure the fidelity has sharpened but Malkmus’ soul is forever indebted to the craft of substantial riffs and composition.
And so while there is a great slacker still around making music, Malkmus has conveyed a set of skills that have withstood the test of time. He sings “There’s not much left inside my tank today” and yet, especially with this new album, he reaffirms that “there’s just enough to come and whisk you away.” Regardless of personal loves, Mirror Traffic elevates on the grounds that Malkmus and his Jicks have undoubtedly reached a peak. Gone are the days of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain but in turn, Malkmus is taking music and delivering his subtle, great spin on it.