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Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' new album, "Mirror Traffic," the band's fifth, finds frontman Malkmus and Grammy Award-nominated singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Beck teaming up for the first time. Beck serves as producer on the project, which arrives Aug. 23 through Matador, the culmination of a long-held mutual respect between the two '90s indie rock icons.
"[Beck] called me up and just put his name in the hat, sort of out of the blue," says Malkmus, who co-founded seminal indie rock band Pavement in the '80s before launching the Jicks in 2000. "It was just perfect timing because [the band] was in the same boat. We were looking for someone to do something and then he's sort of, like, perfect, really."
"Mirror Traffic" is the band's first album since 2008's "Real Emotional Trash," which also arrived on Matador and peaked at No. 64 on the Billboard 200. The new album was recorded mostly before and after the monumental Pavement reunion that Malkmus played in last year. Although the reunion interrupted recording, Malkmus says that Beck couldn't have been more accommodating.
"Beck was also busy with stuff," Malkmus says. "So he was like, 'Oh, yeah, we'll do it when we do it, no worries, stay cool. Everything's great. Everything's California cool.'"
The end result is one of Malkmus' most melodic albums to date and one that's being lauded in early reviews as the truest to his lovably snarky persona. Matador director of publicity Nils Bernstein sees Malkmus' storied musical history -- in addition to Pavement, he also played in the band Silver Jews -- as one of the biggest advantages in turning people on to his latest music.
"It's not difficult to promote someone with such different fan bases -- it's easier," Bernstein says. "Malkmus is hard to pigeonhole. Punks like him, Deadheads like him, university professors like him... It's fun to try and hit all the potential audiences that might love this record."
Malkmus, however, approaches the proposition of earning new fans a bit more apprehensively.
"Sometimes it is hard to draw in new people if they know your story in this age," he says. "Unfortunately, [new fans] are not really going to come from rock radio. Any of this interest is going to have to come from Internet outlets and Internet buzz, or some kind of synch-license agreement where more people would hear you. I don't really see it happening just from touring, and it being on K-Rock [KROQ Los Angeles] or something."
Listen: "Senator," Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
The album's first single, "Senator," a burly beach-party jam that finds Malkmus singing, "I know what the senator wants/What the senator wants is a blow job," certainly isn't K-Rock-ready. Matador is holding a contest, open through the album's release date, for fans to replace the senator's wants with something more radio-friendly, for a September rerelease.
The band is scheduled to perform "Senator," in some incarnation, on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on Aug. 30, and NPR.com will stream the album in its entirety the week prior to street date as part of NPR's "First Listen" program.
"We're doing what we can," Malkmus says. "When you put so much effort into making an album, you definitely want to try and get as many people as you can to hear it."