Stephen Malkmus / Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Mirror Traffic

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Tempting though it may be, Mirror Traffic is not quite Stephen Malkmus' response to the 2010 reunion of Pavement. Malkmus and the Jicks entered the studio with Beck prior to Pavement’s international 2010 tour, so any passing similarities Mirror Traffic may have to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain aren’t a reflection of his ‘90s band bleeding back into the Jicks but perhaps an indication that he was now ready to scale back the thick guitar haze of the 2000s and return to easy elegance. Certainly, the Jicks rage and roar -- “Senator” stutters from riff to solo, “Tune Grief” gallops along headstrong -- but the winding jams have been cut away so the brief blasts of sonic ballast are one of the many colors on an album with a rather large palette. Beck doesn’t clutter the record with unnecessary textures but encourages Malkmus and the Jicks to take detours, so Mirror Traffic winds up playing something like a focused update on Wowee Zowee. Unlike Face the Truth, a similarly kaleidoscopic pop album, there’s a casualness to Mirror Traffic that is immensely appealing: when the summer psychedelia of “Tigers” gives way to the folky pluckings of “No One Is (As I Are Be)” or when the loping guitar pileup of “Forever 28” slides into “All Over Gently”'s country-rock by way of the Velvet Underground, Malkmus never calls attention to his tonal or stylistic shifts -- it all just rolls along lazily yet with purpose. For as relaxed as Mirror Traffic is, there is real structure to the songs and clarity to the production, two things that turn it into Malkmus’ most satisfying solo album to date.

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