Not put off by the fact that Pavement are reuniting for Primavera this year, the group’s legendary lead singer Stephen Malkmus is releasing his second solo album in as many years. Following 2019’s electronic-influenced Groove Denied, Traditional Techniques is both adventurous yet comfortingly familiar.
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It’s that time of year where I hope a Stephen Malkmus album will make me feel anything close to what ‘Gold Soundz’ makes me feel. To his credit, he’s clearly not trying to do that on ‘Traditional Techniques’ but I’m sure he’ll forgive me for chasing this particular dragon.
Last year Malkmus earned himself a cover story from The Wire by vaguely alluding to a drum machine in the press release for ‘Groove Denied’. I think the magazine should probably have waited till ‘Traditional Techniques’, as it feels by far the more adventurous of the two albums. You see, Malkmus has thrown out his drum machine and bought a 12-string guitar, and he’s pretty good at it too.
Malkmus is never going to escape the shadow of Pavement, the way he sings can’t help but feel like Pavement, but the instrumentation and the intent it brings with it mean that on ‘Traditional Techniques’ we get a pretty interesting vision of Pavement but folk. From the very beginning of ‘ACC Kirtan’ Malkmus gives us a lovely little folk intro on the guitar, soon joined by a flute.
The folkiness though mostly comes through with much less bite than you want from Malkmus, things can occasionally get a bit ponderous and slow, but that’s mostly fine because Malkmus remains his charismatic self. Despite all the tradition on show, lyrical references to being owned and getting shadowbanned are resolutely modern. It’s weird in that very Stephen Malkmus way, a way that will always bring a smile to my face.
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