Since the dissolution of Pavement, the band that he fronted up until their fairly acrimonious split in the wake of 1999's Terror Twilight, Stephen Malkmus has appeared eager to put artistic space between him and his former group. A procession of solo records has charted his journey away from Pavement's quirky, collegiate indie-rock sound - notably, 2008's Real Emotional Trash, which brought a hippyish, jam-band quality to the familiar Malkmus witticisms, songs sprawling out to six, seven or even 10 minutes in length.
When Pavement reunited for live shows in 2010, the band's Bob Nastanovich ruled out the possibility of new material, noting to Spin that "Stephen does not write songs for Pavement anymore, or songs in the Pavement mindset". But the curious thing about Mirror Traffic, his fifth with backing band The Jicks, is how it (consciously or not) seems to hark back to his former group. Kicking off with a quintessential Malkmus couplet - "I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks / A scary thought…" he quips - it is an album that possesses a number of Pavemental qualities; spasmodic energy, a wonky melodicism, a good quantity of one-liners that don't quite qualify as jokes, but make you beam like an idiot regardless. "I know what the senator wants / What the senator wants is a b***j**", he notes, twice, on the brisk, bristly Senator.
That's not to say there's zero evidence of progression here. Share the Red, or Long Hard Book, with its long, luscious curls of pedal steel, happen on a gentler, more adult-orientated take on what Pavement did best. Production on the record comes courtesy of indie's favourite Scientologist, Beck Hansen, who has a soft touch - although the folksy No One Is (As I Are Be), curiously, could almost be an offcut from one of those acoustic Beck albums, Seachange or Mutations. To call it a career highlight would be a little excitable, but Mirror Traffic feels like one of those records that'll tempt fair-weather fans back to the Malkmus name. Which is probably a happy thing for all concerned.
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