In an age full to the brim with underwhelming comebacks it was genuinely uplifting to see Pavement back in our lives last year. Thanks to a recent dose of musical revisionism into the 1990s, Pavement’s fan base has grown and grown, much like chopped bamboo. One of the major factors for Pavement’s initial success and subsequent long lasting legacy is front-man Stephen Malkmus’ ability to create oddly catchy songs full of infectious melodies and hooks, whilst constantly experimenting with tunings, tempos, song structures and his trademark for witty and often bizarre lyricism. Mirror Traffic finds Stephen Malkmus on top form and reasserting himself as one of America’s best songwriters around. 

This is the fourth album from Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks (fifth if you count 2005’s Face The Truth) and showcases the band’s penchant for fashioning intriguing yet focussed songs which vary in style, as well as Beck’s talent as a producer in his first collaboration with Malkmus. Beck’s skill in production (and as an artist in general) is his capacity to craft a diversity of sound, a skill which Malkmus also possesses by the bucket load, all of which leads to Mirror Traffic being a multifaceted album, bursting with adventure and excitement. There are moments of impervious power-pop such as in the album’s first single ‘Senator’ and the almost Brit-Pop ‘Forever 28’, as well as dreamy, rambling songs such as the acoustic led ‘No One (Is As I Are Be)’ and the woozy instrumental ‘Jumblegloss’. 

There have been flashes in Malkmus’ extraordinary career where his music has pointed to influences outside noisy indie-rock. I personally think the more country-rock influenced songs by Pavement such as ‘Range Life’ and ‘Father to a Sister of Thought’ were their best, and it's pleasing to see that the pedal steel has returned in album opener ‘Tigers’. The track begins with a bit of Jicks signature guitar interplay, Malkmus’ voice excitably swings high and low, a spot of slide guitar underlies the chorus cry of “We are the tigers, we need separate rooms, we are so divided let us in, change is all we need to improve” and then, boom, back into the opening refrain. It even has a classic Stephen Malkmus ending; completely disjointed from the rest of the song. It’s all very catchy, pleasing stuff. Not as catchy as mid-album track ‘Stick Figures In Love’ though. A bright guitar refrain which will bury deep into your subconscious and remain there for some time spearheads the track and acts as the song’s chorus. Midway through, Malkmus’ vocals begin to decay as crunchy guitars are replaced with jangly acoustics, finally all elements combine for the final furlong as the melody which began the track subtly fades out. Best track on the album by a stretch. 

Malkmus’ lyricism has always been a strong point; constantly peculiar and often comical. Once again, this album signifies that Malkmus is far from running on empty or past his best. ‘Senator’ stakes a claim for funniest lyric of 2011 (“I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blowjob”). Elsewhere, in typical Malkmus fashion, it’s difficult to pinpoint any particular lyrical theme; it seems idiosyncratically offbeat throughout, as if we expected anything different. 

Mirror Traffic does not just find Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks on top form, but quite possibly their best. The songs, the production and the performances are all top notch and Malkmus (who, physically, has something of the Dorian Gray about him) winds back the years to deliver his best post-Pavement material to date.