Album Review: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks' 'Mirror Traffic'
“Mirror Traffic” marks the first collaboration between two bards of the wastoid California flats, Stephen Malkmus and producer Beck Hansen. With coppery, loping guitars and song structures that unspool with no particular place to go, Malkmus’ latest outing with the Jicks sounds like it was recorded during sunset at a backyard barbecue on the longest summer equinox ever known to hit the West Coast.
In actuality, it was recorded in snatches of time before and after Malkmus’ 2010 tour with a reunited Pavement, and though Hansen’s hand is directly present in a few moments, for the most part, he sits far back. His sweetest calling card here is “No One Is (As I Are Be),” a lazily magisterial jewel that shows off one of the album’s more charming lines, “I cannot even do one sit-up. Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie.” Next time you don’t feel like hitting the gym, remind yourself that the whole workout thing is lamely pedestrian anyway.
There are few songwriters who have Malkmus’ level of curiosity or his cat burglar’s sensibility for how to steal into a song. Each one is like a Victorian mansion with nooks and crannies, secret doors and diamond-shaped windows in closets. Throughout “Mirror Traffic,” he shimmies through every possible entryway. Even when his landing might be a bit awkward, the Jicks (Mike Clark, Joanna Bolme and drummer Janet Weiss, who has since left to join Wild Flag) support him with fraternal loyalty.
It doesn’t seem incidental that Malkmus named his album after two elements that could be said to dictate Southern California life. Traffic is a handy metaphor for the album; it’s a gorgeously orchestrated mess. In the last moment of “Brain Gallop,” drums, keys and bass chase around Malkmus’ sinewy guitar until all the elements collapse together, a four-instrument pileup. The pleasure of “Mirror Traffic” is listening to Malkmus, a master driver, work himself into and out of any jam. If only the 405 at rush hour could be so lovely.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Three and a half stars (Out of four)