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Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Mirror Traffic 

Matador

Postmodern irony lost its charm when Bill Clinton was still in office. Former Pavement vocalist Stephen Malkmus knows this, but occasionally relapses with tongue-in-cheek one-liners that cling like a wet T-shirt to his mostly brilliant post-'90s push to remain relevant. Mirror Traffic continues his upward trajectory and offers his most concise songwriting to date. Much of the album's coherent momentum is due to the guidance of producer and fellow '90s iconoclast Beck, who keeps Malkmus focused on fleshing out each song's full potential. Arresting piano melodies in "No One Is (As I Are Be)," and the gorgeous "Stick Figures in Love" draw from Malkmus' melodic vocal inflections and guitar tones, which resonate with a singularly expressive quality. Each one culminates in less smarty-pants wit and a compelling sense of growth. "Senator" and "Spazz" evoke Malkmus' slacker-rocking days, which don't really fit here, but they're certainly fun beacons amid the grace with which Malkmus is moving into maturity. (4 out of 5 stars)

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