October 21, 2011

New Music: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

The latest record from the former Pavement frontman has been out for several months now, and I've been putting off writing about it, perhaps because, like previous releases by Stephen Malkmus, it's acquired a rather personal significance--I'm cringing as I write this. I should also mention that it took some time to warm up to Mirror Traffic, perhaps because the first few tracks just aren't very good.

In my opinion, aside from a few duds (always par for the course with Malkmus), it's right up there with his best solo work, and constitutes a real step forward after 2008's less-than-spectacular Real Emotional Trash. The guitars are still prominent but the riffs are better and the poppier fare on Mirror Traffic makes better use of them. Somehow, the Malkmus continues to be juvenile and mature at the same time--he's that crazy uncle you idolized as a kid; the man who now earns your qualified appreciation as an adult. You may at times cringe at his wordplay, but (as with Real Emotional Trash) much of the sentiment comes from an archive of experiences that can only be amassed by middle-age. Malkmus is a family-man, a beloved veteran of indie rock, a recreational drug-user, an emotional screw-up, a witty comedian, and, of course, a guitar god. That compelling mess is all on display here: from the frenetic pulse of a song like "Tune Grief" to the laid-back, tender style of "Share the Red," it could be said that Malkmus calls it in. Indeed, none of this is new for fans of Pavement, even with Beck (another veteran of the nineties) lending his name to the production. Be that as it may, if Mirror Traffic is one of my favourite albums of the year, it's because Malkmus' penchant for melody is still unmatched in guitar-based indie rock, and wherever I'm at in my life, his songs continue to resonate, connect and, ultimately, illuminate the aspects of my life that require a soundtrack, if not a roadmap.

Here's "Stick Figures in Love," one of several tracks from Mirror Traffic that fit that somewhat personal (and embarrassing) description.

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