Words commonly inhabit songs; but amongst today’s sterile, dance-centric popular music, words are more of an afterthought than a necessity. That’s probably why Stephen Malkmus remains an icon of the indie rock persuasion, where his frequent travels into lyrical absurdity can be appreciated. Malkmus and current band formation, The Jicks, return with their fifth studio album, “Mirror Traffic.” In Stephen’s sizable, double-decade repertoire, the Beck-produced “Mirror Traffic” is one of the most melodically mainstream albums, but still quite far off with its flexible chord progressions and unpredictable declarations.
From the first lines of the opening track, “Tiger” – “I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks/ a scary thought in the two Ks” – fans will know that these lyrics aren’t meant to disappear into a bass and synth vortex. Not unlike previous efforts from the Jicks, “Mirror Traffic” is a rather obvious extension of the trademark “slacker” rock Malkmus perfected with his native band, Pavement. And “slacker” is in no way an insult to The Jicks’ creative output; it’s the only way to describe how organically the elements of “Mirror Traffic” come together. Malkmus’s vocals are pleasantly bare and unconcerned, aided by loaded lyric grenades he unwittingly flings at waiting listeners, as though he only just thought of them.If you haven’t been a Stephen Malkmus fan in the past, this could possibly be the conversion album. While past efforts have sometimes felt long-winded and trapped in a distinctly 1990s sound, “Mirror Traffic” takes a breath and focuses on the logical senselessness of life and relationships. It’s not the most thoughtful or abstract Jicks album, but it offers 16 solid tracks of satisfyingly honest speculations and humorous lyrical tangents, as in the frantic track, “Spazz” – “Would you like to pet my rifle? / Summer camp is such a drag/ I rip into my lemon trifle/ I’m too old to play capture the flag/ Someone’s giving French kiss lessons/ How else will we learn to love.”
Some of the most captivating moments happen on slow, unhurried tracks like “Share the Red,” “No One Is (As I Are Be)” and “Asking Price,” where Malkmus sings tenderly alongside meandering guitar melodies. “Mirror Traffic” has much to offer for Malkmus virgins and veterans alike, who will have an equally difficult time ignoring the sardonic social caricatures and a micro-hook about blowjobs in the album’s first single, “Senator.” Just go ahead and try.