Sad that Portland has lost Stephen Malkmus (formerly of legendary Pavement) to Berlin, but happy that he’s still putting out some awesome stuff. Beck produced this record, Mirror Traffic, which besides being a cool 90s-act collaboration also produces a balanced and unified record overall. Beck’s touch is pretty light, all in subtle effects and atmosphere. Last time to hear fantastic drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, now with Wild Flag) back up one of the era’s greatest guitarists.
Playful as expected, rife with juxtapositions and inversions, casual key changes, deceptively shambling-sounding but more tightly wound than a well-practiced comedy routine, Mirror Traffic is wholly part of the Malkmus pedigree. For proof, look no further than the album’s opening fifth, offering a combination of garage rock-grumbling (“Tigers”), spacey piano-acoustic sprawl (“No One Is (As I Are Be)”) and shuffling, collapsing slams (“Senator”). “Tigers” waits for Malkmus to become “enveloped in your sticker shock” before unleashing Chuck Berry licks and lap steel like someone he recalls catching “streaking in your Birkenstocks.” “Senator” is source of one of the few salient political ideas of this season, and “No One Is (As I Are Be)” starts with a cramped, close-in Lou Reed whisper and unfolds in hi-hat, spacious piano and ’70s horn, giving the track an Air-like breathing space.
His penchant for zuihitsu-style lyrics lead to interesting ends, particularly on the fittingly-titled “Brain Gallop,” on “Asking Price,” where he ties his jumbled, stumbling vocals to the riff and on “Forever 28,” which he introduces in a skipping, keyboard-backed clip, “I can see the mystery of you and me will never quite add up/ No one is your perfect fit, I do not believe in that shit,” later obliterating it in lengthy hair-rock runs on the guitar. “Spazz,” a bite of Wowee Zowee-sized goodness, similarly flits in a lurching strum: “Someone’s giving French kiss lessons/ How else will we learn to love?” In “Tune Grief” he becomes downright illegible, adopting a Johnny Rotten growl as his guitar spirals in a ’60s surf-rock riff.
Read the rest of the review here: Spectrum Culture: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic