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QUICK SPINS: Stephen Malkmus, Red Hot Chili Peppers

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 29, 2011 4:00PM

In which we take a quick look at a few recent or upcoming musical releases.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Mirror Traffic

2011_08_stephen_malkmus.jpg Stephen Malkmus has done a good job of keeping the material he's released since his tenure leading Pavement at a higher quality level than most, even if some of his jammier tendencies in recent years got a little tiresome and he's shown an unwillingness to embrace the lighter moments that made his previous band so endearing to the indie kids (us included). In fact we'd given up on hearing anything too Pavement-esque from Malkmus long ago and that was O.K., we were cool with the man feeling the need to grow in a different direction.

On his latest album Malkmus asked Beck Hansen to take the producer's seat and the result is Mirror Traffic, an album that's succinct yet playfully looser than we've come to expect from him in recent years. In fact he sounds so comfortable across the album's fifteen tracks that he seems to have forgotten to do everything in his power to not sound like Pavement. The result is an album that could have fit right next to Wowee Zowee in his previous band's catalog and will please anyone less forgiving of Malkmus' dismissal of the sound that brought him to fame. The songs are concise, the melodies are slightly wobbly and even the tiny sonic scribbles between a few of the regular length songs are entertainingly engaging. It appears as if Malmus has made peace with his past and doesn't mind pulling on the finer moments from distant days to create his most readily enjoyable fun solo album yet.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks play October 6 at The Vic.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
I'm With You

2011_08_rhcp_im_with_you.jpg Once upon a time Red Hot Chili Peppers were true outcasts, sen by many as downright freaky and embraced primarily by punks and skaters and the outliers of the time. So it's still kind of hard for us to wrap our heads around the idea that the band is now one of the biggest in the world even if they seem to now be a pale shadow of their feistier early selves. As their albums grew more formulaic and more dependent on guitarist John Frusciante we actually began to see them as a form of comfort food; dependable if a bit too dependent on empty calories. When Frusciante announced his departure from the band in 2009 we honestly thought the band might be over since not only has every attempt to replace him since he joined in 1988 failed but he was also the band's primary provider of hooks and hummable choruses.

Surprisingly they did come out with another album, the just-released I'm With You, and it's not so much an evolution of the group's sound as it is a slight rediscovery in redirection. The funny thing is that with Frusciante absent we have the opportunity to newly rediscover the band's other members strengths. For instance one thing that's always separated RHCP from all the other punk-funkers that followed was their true rhythmic sense and drummer Chad Smith has unerring taste in that department. He handily inject the beats with subtle accents and trickily dances around his kit while simultaneously never holding back his steadily powerful approach to beating the crap out of the skins. When this is paired with bassist Flea's still inventive and incredibly jaw dropping bass lines the band is able to charge ahead at full speed. People malign singer Anthony Kiedes' simplistic lyrics and limited vocal range, but that overlooks the fact that he's there more as a rhythmic instrument himself. Without Frusciante the band's grown a little less sure of themselves and that makes I'm With You an uneven album, but it's also one that feels less like product and more the result of some guys trying to figure out how to make the music they love all over again. It's a new look for men not usually known for their humility but it's one we unexpectedly like on them.