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CD REVIEW: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks' Mirror Traffic


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Matador; Release date: Aug. 23, 2011

THE DEAL: Stephen Malkmus releases most Pavement-like post-Pavement effort.

THE GOOD: Malkmus' fifth solo effort is a welcome rejoinder to the prog-jam bloat of 2008's Real Emotional Trash, as most of the 15 tracks here have their say in three minutes. Beck was brought in to produce and pays instant arranging dividends, but the emphasis is on the fractured tempos, scissoring guitar riffs and cut-and-paste culture-critiques that marked Malkmus one of rock's unique tunesmiths. Opener "Tigers" is classic Pavement summer pop song underlined with pedal steel swells; over its 2:38, "Spazz" careers through half-a-dozen tempo/style changes — from "Debris Slide" punk to "Blue Hawaiian" jazz; "Tune Grief" out-garages today's retro kids; and hard-rocking "Senator" boils down political corruption to its salient Freudian point — "what the senator wants is a blow-job." There are, too, those moments when Malkmus hits emotional truths as great as any weepy navel-gazer, sans the whining: "I can see the mystery of you and me will never quite add up," he sings over jaunty rhythms in "Forever 28." Mirror Traffic actually sounds necessary, emerging in an "indie" era when Moogs threaten to usurp guitars, glo-stick dance nostalgia and soft-rock revisionism rule the day, and nobody seems to have shit to say. That's never an issue with the loquacious Malkmus, who points out on LP-closer "Gorgeous Georgie" that when "there's no alacrity, the pack will feed on what you pour/skating on the thin ice pond/and I can't tell what for." It's as true now as it was in the '90s.

THE BAD: Some 57-minute LPs feel long; this one doesn't.

THE VERDICT: Pavement fans relax/rejoice.


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