Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Music Review)

Mirror Traffic cover

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Every few years, Stephen Malkmus comes out of hiding to remind you that he’s still cooler than you will ever be. His albums with The Jicks, like that high school friend you desperately looked up to, remain as effortless and confident as ever. But after staying unchanged for years, you eventually start to understand that that friend could stand to mature a little.

Mirror Traffic comments on Malkmus’ persona like no other album he’s made. “No One Is (As I Are Be)” pokes fun at himself with lyrics like, “I cannot even do one sit-up. Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie. I’m busy hanging out and spending your money.” A couple breakup songs treat the subject matter with a casual disregard for commitment. Specifically, “All Over Gently” can be seen as either fun or cruel, depending on whether the other party agrees with his opinion that it’s time for her to leave with no hard feelings. And though the political satire of “Senator” is arguably new territory for Malkmus, it’s really an experiment in what how slacker lifestyle would fit in with corrupt politicians.

In fact, Jicks albums can now be described entirely in terms of what has come before. Mirror Traffic is as poppy as their debut album, but with the full sound and varied instrumentation of Face the Truth. The experimentation of Pig Lib is almost nonexistent now, though the meandering jams of Real Emotional Trash have remained even in the shorter pop songs.

It is, honestly, one of the band’s stronger efforts. The Jicks are honing one sound rather than looking for new ones, and there is a perfectionist streak hidden behind their casual front. The production and performances are near-perfect, and they keep building on the tricks that worked best in the past. I do complain that the albums have started to feel similar, but I have to admit that no song directly copies a previous one.

Mirror Traffic is something of a milestone, in that Malkmus has now released as many albums with The Jicks as he did with Pavement. But while it was a sign of stagnation when Pavement’s releases started sounding similar, it seems that The Jicks will be content to play with their sound forever. There is good and bad in that, but they get away with it because new albums only appear every few years. That friend who hasn’t changed since youth might not be a good person to have around every day, but if he can only show up as rarely as this band does, you’ll keep looking forward to the next time.

Grade: B

 
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