Mirror Traffic, the latest from Stephen Malkmus and his band of Jicks, has already been hailed by many critics as his strongest post-Pavement work, due in large part to its stronger focus and ramshackle sense of melody. Marking a return to the sort of unpredictable, irreverent pop gems that characterized his original band, Malkmus eschewed the jammier, more prog-inflected tendencies of his more recent work (2008’s Real Emotional Trash).
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Tonight at 8 p.m.
The Majestic Theatre
The new album, originally titled LA Guns before Malkmus’s lawyer informed him it might raise issue with the ’80s hair metal band of the same name, features like-minded O.G. slacker Beck Hansen on production duties and was recorded mostly in Los Angeles before Malkmus left for Pavement’s reunion tour in the spring of 2010. Now, on the eve of a new tour starting tonight at Detroit’s Majestic Theatre, Malkmus and the Jicks will have to shake off some rust.
“Some cuts we haven’t really been playing in the last five years or so,” said Joanna Bolme, the bassist for the Jicks, in an interview with the The Michigan Daily. “I had to learn all the songs from Mirror Traffic over again, too, because we haven’t played them for so long.”
Bolme has been with the Jicks since their inception in 2000, first bonding over two-letter Scrabble words with Malkmus and Pavement percussionist/mascot Bob Nastanovich when they were in Portland’s Jackpot studios recording demos for Pavement’s last record, Terror Twilight.
Malkmus’s 2010 reunion stint with Pavement saw the departure of Janet Weiss (original Jicks drummer via Sleater-Kinney), who was recruited to play in latter-day grrrl group Wild Flag. But even with a new touring drummer and more than a year off between the recording of the album and its release, Bolme is quick to point out that the band has been far from unproductive with its time off.
“We have a whole album’s worth of new songs,” she said. “We’ll be playing some of those, trying them out.”
Much has been made about the coupling of Malkmus and Beck, an almost pitch-perfect match of ad hoc virtuosos that has left many wondering why the pairing hadn’t been made sooner given their separate but equal successes in the ’90s.
“It turned out that Beck called Steve and said ‘Hey, would you want to work on something together?’ ” Bolme explained. “It turned out to be a great thing because as far as we saw him, he was more of a musician than a producer-type guy.”
Bolme also noted how Beck’s similar approach to impromptu lyric writing and eclectic melodies provided a natural aural and conceptual foil for Malkmus.
“(Steve’s) probably the best at sort of off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness lyrics,” she said. “He doesn’t really need to have something written down. Some of the stuff he made up on the spot; I don’t always know where it comes from, and I’m not sure he does either, actually.”
Beck’s added instrumentation and “good vibes” — coaching the band to play softer and go for what Bolme described as a “full-on L.A. Wrecking-Crew-type sound” as opposed to louder, more raw live takes in the studio — proved incredibly effective on record. The inspired ensemble playing by the Jicks and humorous lyrical jogs by Malkmus that dot Mirror Traffic are readily translatable to the stage, provided they keep the sarcasm and sneers intact.
Though the band still calls Portland home (despite Malkmus recently uprooting to Berlin), the group would be the first to admit its stint with Beck in L.A. was a good decision. Bolme, an admitted Portland lifer, nevertheless maintains that the small, music-friendly city in the Pacific Northwest has provided all the incentive the band needs to keep making music.
“There’s real strong weed and real good beer, but it’s also pretty affordable and hard to find a job,” she said. “So if you’re unemployed and a little depressed and kind of high and have a basement, you might as well make some music, I guess.”