Former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus and Frank Black (Pixies) must have been separated at birth, or are some sort of cousins.
A listen to Malkmus’ fifth solo LP gives a definite suggestion.
Mirror Traffic, recorded with Malkmus’ band The Jicks, wafts off waves of off-hand super-catchy weirdness that only sonic sibling Black can focus in on… or Malkmus/Jicks producer Beck.
Mirror Traffic is a summit meeting of lesser-known ‘90s alt-rock gods and demi-gods –– the reluctant ones, that is. They were the Olympians who moved on, feet shuffling fast, from all points deemed slack and hip in that decade.
Malkmus and Beck rein the whack in, and focus on some vibrant ideas that turn corners into unexpected songs that will leave listeners feeling weird and fine in spite of themselves.
Malkmus holds on to his position as one of the founding alternative rock community’s rare guitar heroes on Mirror Traffic.
His work ain’t wank –– it’s left-of-centre and mercurial. His playing follows the song and swerves into some rickety and pseudo-commentary sounds.
He’s not macho, but he’s got style.
Mirror Traffic is held together by this B-grade ‘70s style sound of Malkmus. The songs have no anchor to hold them down, yet this doesn’t hold them back. Wasn’t rock and roll once about expression and entertainment? Yeah, it sounds like The Jicks believe that.
Partly responsible for the cartoonish creativity is producer Beck. He and Malkmus are a backward looking, spaghetti-western Dream Team. Beck’s own penchant for recorded oddities are easily matched by the off-kilter songs of Malkmus. This reaches a culmination on the aptly titled Spazz. Can the sound of The Doors on a Disneyland acid trip be recorded successfully? Check it out… it actually can.
Eccentric rock and moments of humour unintentionally collide throughout Mirror Traffic. Passionate flurries of half-hearted guitar and wide melodies roost on Senator, a song whose slackness belies a blunt lyrical approach and coy obnoxiousness.
This all adds up to a good time that you’d never expect.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is The Morning Star’s CD review. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday.