Beck Hansen is the producer of choice just now for a certain genre and after his work with Thurston Moore previously reviewed here, he turns his attention to another veteran genius, Stephen Malkmus. This record shares with Moore’s 'Demolished Thoughts' a laidback interior and a polished exterior. Clearly relishing the experience, Stephen Malkmus and his band, The Jicks, give a confident performance – but is it too relaxed?
Stephen Malkmus has been making music for a long time and has earned his status as a true leader of the US indie scene through a catalogue of great songs and some thrillingly accomplished live performances. With that track record you’d think it must be challenging to find something new to say. This album is a grower but it’s also frustratingly close to something really quite brilliant.
The early free download release of 'Senator' didn’t raise high expectations and there are a few other tracks that similarly feel like SM songs on autopilot – including opener 'Tigers' and 'Forever 28', which starts like one then breaks out rather brilliantly for the last 60 seconds. Then again, 'No One Is (As I Are Be)' is a standout that leaves you wishing there was more acoustic guitar on the album, and 'All Over Gently' takes a classic Malkmus melody and gives it a jazzy vibe which works surprisingly well.
Malkmus is very well served by his Jicks – especially the rhythm section of Janet Weiss who turns in a beautifully restrained backbeat and Joanna Bolme with her thumping bottom ended bass. There’s an absence of the customary extended guitar freak-outs, which puts the focus firmly on the songs and makes this record the closest to SM’s eponymous and sadly neglected solo album from 2001.
Like that album, 'Mirror Traffic' features some great songs – 'Share The Red' and 'Asking Price' are further highlights – but I had, perhaps unfairly, hoped for more. Stephen Malkmus can surely produce the kind of mould breaking album that say, Wilco, produced with 'a ghost is born', but maybe he needs a producer like Jim O’Rourke, rather than Beck, to drive him out of his comfort zone.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Tigers by artsandcraftsmx
'Mirror Traffic' is available to purchase from your local retailer, Amazon.co.uk, iTunes etc.