With Beck at the helm Stephen Malkmus and his post Pavement band The Jicks have created their most focused and appealing record to date.
Gone is the meandering and squealing 70s rock solos of their last album, 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. In its place is a genuine warmth and commitment. Mirror Traffic sounds like an album that Beck and the band have spent time on rather than just jumped in the studio, jammed for a while and then said ‘that’ll do’.
The most immediate improvement is the length of the songs. Take track eight ‘Spazz’ for example. At just 2min 30 sec it drives along neatly rather than careers and crashes as Real Emotional Trash’s tracks did. It ends leaving you wanting more, rather than reaching for the fast forward button as an indulgent five minute guitar solo becomes too tedious to bare.
Another change is the lyrical focus, with Malkmus’s streams of consciousness seemingly making more sense in places. He’s still a silly man lyrically. But on stand out track ‘Senator’, with its chorus “I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blow job,” the listener is left in no doubt what Malkmus thinks of US political corruption.
Beck has also brought a range of styles to the production table. It’s still an alternative rock album but on track two ‘No One Is (As I Are Be)’ the rhythm section sounds more like 1960s folk group Pentangle, with its soft jazz style and acoustic guitar. Beck’s fondness for the 1960s shines through further on the track as trumpets softly nestle in the background.
Among other standouts is ‘Asking Price’, with its moments of Velvet Underground guitar playing. ‘Stick Figures in Love’ is as fine an indiepop track as you will hear all year.
There’s the occasional unnecessary moment. I’m not sure what value there is in the short instrumental ‘Jumblegloss’ for example. But its so short and inoffensive and the rest of the album is so good that it hardly matters.
We had the pleasure of seeing Pavement at their ATP Festival in Minehead in 2010. There all the band’s influences were laid out. If one criticism could be made it was that the line up was a little too guitar heavy, a little too full of fret wankery. Perhaps Malkmus thought the same too in preparing this album, which is one of those rare moments in music where the timing, the mood and the production come together just perfectly. Real emotion without the trash.
by Joe Lepper