Wild Mercury Sound
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, "Mirror Traffic" + Lindsey Buckingham, "Seeds We Sow"
Bit of a hack through the backlog today, beginning with a mild disappointment, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ “Mirror Traffic”.
No arguing about the clarity of Beck’s production – there’s the same crispness he brought to the Thurston Moore solo set earlier this year. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the relative tightness and economy that he brings is the best showcase for Malkmus’ skills these days. I guess I rate “Real Emotional Trash” just about as highly as any Pavement album, mostly because of the way the Jicks collectively bend and stretch Malkmus’ characteristically crafted songs into frequently rearing jams.
In comparison, “Mirror Traffic” is a more discreet and tidy beast, and maybe the closest analogue in Malkmus’ back catalogue is “Brighten The Corners”; in some ways more conventional and poppy than the record that precedes it, but oddly harder to get into (for me, at least). “Senator”, for instance, is a terrific song that feels a little squeezed; there’s a point at the end when Malkmus starts a solo, before putting the brakes on in a weirdly anti-climactic way.
Malkmus albums can take a while to bed in, of course; it was months before the marvels of “Pig Lib” fully revealed themselves. In the meantime, I can particularly recommend the sweet expansions of “Brain Gallop”; “Spazz” (a varispeed précis of Malkmus’ career, after a fashion, leaning quite heavily on “Wowee Zowee”); the oddly needling solo that ends “Long Hard Book”.
Quite a bit written about “Mirror Traffic” has noted how it was recorded while Malkmus was preparing for the Pavement reunion, as if that duty somehow reined in his more psychedelic excesses. It’s not the usual way that solo projects are used, and certainly not how Lindsey Buckingham seems to work.
Last time I wrote about Buckingham and “Gift Of Screws”, my self-professed ignorance/suspicion of a lot of Fleetwood Mac drew a fair bit of approbrium from his more dedicated fans. Nevertheless, I’ll risk it again, because “Seeds We Sow” is another really interesting record.
Even more than that last album, “Seeds We Sow” feels like a hermetically-sealed, satisfyingly odd album, an absolutely driven pursuit of a singular artistic vision. On one level, “In Our Own Time” is a pretty orthodox rock song, but Buckingham smartly flaunts his home studio solipsism and his ProTools rig rather than faking a virtual band with it. The results are fractured and disorienting, with some unearthly, obsessive-compulsive guitar textures.
While there are certainly some beautiful, rippling reveries like the title track and “Stars Are Crazy”, which hark back to “Under The Skin”, many of the songs on “Seeds We Sow” sound – to a relative neophyte, remember – like they’d work pretty well for Fleetwood Mac. It’s the treatments - so micro-managed and fastidious; hyper-sharp and dreamy at the same time – that see Buckingham really asserting his independence. I like it, if that’s OK with his proper fans…