Stephen Malkmus, the legendary leader of Pavement, has returned with a new solo outing, Mirror Traffic. Opening with the jaunty “Tigers,” Mirror Traffic is chock-full of the indie hooks that made Pavement the end-all-be-all of the genre. “No One (Is As I Are Be)” has a quiet, majestic quality about it found in the horns and brushed guitar, sonically recalling producer Beck’s folk masterpiece Sea Change. The fast and loose technique that fueled so many Pavement records is in full effect.
At 15 songs, the album is sprawling, yet extremely varied in mood, but unfortunately Mirror Traffic loses focus at its center, unable to maintain the energy explosive opening. The middle sags with droning tunes filled with go-nowhere solos, most noticeably on “Share the Red”. “Long Hard Book” offers a warped version of ‘70s folk rock, complete with a delayed, fuzzed out Floyd solo. “Tune Grief” regains the album’s manic presence, pushing the listener towards the end as a fast, spazzy punk tune clocking in at barely over two minutes.
A revered performer in his own right, Mirror Traffic producer Beck has also produced fellow noise guru Thurston Moore’s album, a folk endeavor that is a far cry from Sonic Youth’s wall of sound. Beck’s sonic fingerprints are most present in the country-Western slide guitar that peppers the album. However, Mirror Traffic spends as much time being whimsical and hushed as it does throwing punk-shrapnel hand grenades.
Though everything Malkmus does will be compared to Pavement, Mirror Traffic stands on its own merits. So much of what made Pavement so appealing is present on Mirror Traffic, from the instinctive, jangly songwriting to the geekage-infused lyrics. Mirror Traffic will satiate the old guard and fledgling indie fans alike.