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Spins: Stephen Malkmus • “Traditional Techniques”

| April 1, 2020

Stephen Malkmus
Traditional Techniques
(Matador Records)

When Pavement first entered the rock scene nearly 30 years ago, they stood out like a sore thumb. While they were lo-fi, they weren’t punk, and while they had pop melodies, those were buried under tape hiss and inside jokes. Frontman Stephen Malkmus never went for a stylistic makeover, instead slowly fermenting his sound into something very original. When Pavement disbanded right on the verge of breaking through, it was classic Malkmus. Instead of going solo and working towards a crossover hit, he put together a new band (The Jicks) and got more idiosyncratic. Flirting with jam-band whimsy, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks had the best of both worlds. Instrumental sophistication that hit a jazz-like maelstrom was paired with humor and a lyrical coyness always prominent in those early Pavement classics.

Last year’s Groove Denied album found him testing the waters with a jagged, electronics-based sound. This year’s Traditional Techniques finds him (along with Matt Sweeney) trying out a whole new brand of caftan. At first glance, his “acoustic” album, Traditional Techniques, eschews classic alt-rocker-going-acoustic with flourishes of sitars, dobros, rababs, and other markers of world music-making this indeed a step outside most alt-rock comfort zones. The lyrics conjure (or send up?) a smarmy, west coast elitism that mentions ganache, shadow-banning, and “cherry ideas.” When the melodies cut through the haze, they can be downright entrancing, like on “Cash Up” or “What Kind Of Person.” While primarily a mellow adventure, one wouldn’t call this Malkmus’ “Sea Change,” as it sounds detached from any romantic heartbreak. However, the free-spirited, loose-limbed jams on Traditional Techniques push it into another arena: seasoned songwriter throwing out his rule book.

-Andy Derer

8 out of 10


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Category: Monthly, Spins

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