Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks | Mirror Traffic (Matador)

It’s now obvious that Stephen Malkmus is well over the years of running around naked in bohemian footwear. “I saw you streaking in your Birkenstocks, a scary thought in the 2Ks” are the words that cordially open “Tigers,” the first song of Mirror Traffic, Malkmus and the Jicks’ latest effort.

 

 
What may be scarier is that Malkmus has retained his space-case wit all this time, and it doesn’t stop here. “Too busy putzing ’round the Internet, revel in the disconnect,” he sings on “Asking Price,” seemingly disappointed by a whole generation of modern-day space-cases who don’t quite live up to his notion of a slacker. What is it, you ask? There’s no obtainable answer, but Malkmus himself could be the unofficial ringleader. He’d rather participate from a distance, though, sharing such a sentiment only in songwriting that may not generate the fan-boy craziness of a recent Pavement reunion, but proves that, separate from Pavement, Stevie-boy can hold his own.
Recorded in Los Angeles with Beck, Mirror Traffic is the result of trading big guitar solos for neatly packed tunes that fit nicely in their allotted spaces. Randomness is not lost, though—ups and downs are sprinkled expertly, likely attributed to the meeting of two former burnout minds who each carry the oversized joint roach torches of way-out-there idioms and song structures. This album plays into what ’90s music nerds are missing, but it’s not oversaturated with the throwback; more accurately, it’s modern indie-rock, grown-up style.
Tighter and less foggy than Real Emotional Trash, only three songs clock in at just over five minutes, but don’t think more focus equals less of what’s to be loved most: their tangents of stoner grooves and weird, lazy timing shine through on “Brain Gallop,” “Spazz,” and “Share the Red” quite well, and “All Over Gently” could be a nod to “No More Shoes” from the whimsical, righteous Face the Truth. “Stick Figures in Love” carries a tense immediacy, and it’s remembered for a wispy-voiced Malkmus and an acoustic riff outlining what morphs into a catchy, crunchy melody. “Tune Grief” is welcomed with its drowned out vocals: it’s a quick, surf-y ode to straight-up rock ’n’ roll.
Sadly, this is the last Jicks record with drummer Janet Weiss, who left to focus on Wild Flag with fellow ex-Sleater-Kinney gal pal Carrie Brownstein. She’ll be sorely missed, especially on songs like “Senator,” “Spazz,” and “Forever 28,” where her prowess is best showcased. Beck made the drums his own on “No One Is (As I Are Be), “Asking Price,” and “Fall Away,” and his ’60s flavor works with a band that already grooves in their own right. A- | Justin Curia
RIYL: Pavement, Yo La Tengo

 

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