3 stars (out of 4)
Pavement fans – reminded of the band’s prowess on a 2010 payday reunion tour --- have been awaiting an album like “Mirror Traffic” (Matador) for a decade. On his fifth studio album as a solo artist, Stephen Malkmus finally delivers a Pavement-esque collection of loose yet concise melodies that lope across the fine line between slapdash and inspired.
“Mirror Traffic” is a long overdue reminder of how adept he can be with words, tunes, guitars. On previous albums with his Portland backing group, the Jicks, Malkmus has indulged his inner prog-rock and jam-band tendencies, noodling away while shooting off on tangents that sometimes went on and on for 10 minutes or more. But on “Mirror Traffic” he enlists Beck as producer, who seems to have reminded Malkmus of what he does best.
The songs have a breezy immediacy, as if they were dashed off in the moment, but each has a distinctive character: the jazzy guitar arabesques and ominous wordless background vocals of “Spazz,” the hurtling momentum of “Tune Grief” and “Stick Figures in Love,” the serrating (and rare) political commentary of “Senator,” the lonesome country drift of “Long Hard Book,” the rollercoaster solo that punctuates “Brain Gallop.”
Only Malkmus could write lines such as, “I cannot even do one sit-up/Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie” – you can practically see the smirk creasing his lips as he sings those words. He may mock his lack of motivation and energy, but on “Mirror Traffic,” Malkmus sounds more focused than he has in years.
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