One of the few bands I discovered in my teenage years that I continue to develop a fondness for rather than a slowly building distance from are Pavement. Something about SM and the crew's absolute embrace of being a slacker shines to me as a more admirable ambition than that of a thousand try-hard rock stars, let alone all those bankers & politicians. Pick a cut at random from either of Pavement's first three albums and you will be greeted with something that sounds like the band could barely be bothered to exist, so how they managed to enter a studio and record music is beyond me. And it's spellbinding: horizontal to the point where any further would be perpendicular.
And here I will level with you - as big a fan of Pavement's as I am the solo material I have heard, from Malkmus or anyone else, has always left me a little cold. It lacked th (lack of) focus that made Pavement special. But, producer slut that I am, the announcement of Beck as the producer of Mirror Traffic had me a little excited.
And it turns out I had every right to be. Mirror Traffic arguably sounds like a better Pavement album than the last Pavement album. The slacker charm is here in full force and whilst it might not be Crooked Rain, there are a whole bunch of bloody excellent tunes. I remember reading of a spat between the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Malkmus (following a harmless dig from the latter on ’Range Life') in which Corgan counter-dissed Pavement (and still does), saying "people don't fall in love to Pavement... they put on Smashing Pumpkins or Hole or Nirvana, because these bands actually mean something to them".
The stupid thing about this exchange is that nothing could be further from the truth, and the same goes here, many years on. Much more so than on Malkmus' other solo work. Just listen to the gloriously catchy, scruffy guitars of 'Stick Fingers In Love' for example. Or the loose near-balladry of 'Share The Red', with Malkmus' vocal delivery of the line "I'll be watching all the time" in the bridge spat out in distaste. This music still packs the kind of passionate punch that most bands would die for.
The lyrics themselves are, at times, similarly full of downer brilliance. Take the opening of 'Forever 28’: "I can see the mystery of you and me will never quite add up / no-one is your perfect fit, I do not believe in that shit, don't you know every bubble bursts?"
As for production, Beck's touch is deft. Play this to a Pavement fan without them knowing the producer and they would know no different - it's raw and grungey and loose yet as soon as you know the producer it comes as little surprise... The hints are there in the snippets of brass, choruses of wordless 'ahhhhhs' as backing vocals. Beck has brought his skill to Malkmus' songwriting, but at the expense of nothing.
All in all this Mirror Traffic is a thrill: a post-pavement record better than you could hope for.