Stephen Malkmus: Traditional Techniques
Stephen Malkmus didn’t need to record an album of mind-bending psych-folk full of traditional Afghani instruments. The guy helped invent modern indie-rock as one of the driving forces behind Pavement—no one could blame him (and many would love him) if he’d planted his flag on that hill and left it there. Then again, of course Malkmus needed to record an album of mind-bending psych-folk full of traditional Afghani instruments. Too few members of rock’s elite are willing to risk humiliating themselves in pursuit of a sick jam, and Malkmus seems willing to indulge any creative whim. In 2019—one year after issuing the wildly eclectic Sparkle Hard with backing band the Jicks—he went solo for Groove Denied, an unexpected detour into electronica and post-punk. But Traditional Techniques is an even more bizarre, compelling lark. He conceived the project during the Sparkle Hard sessions after catching a glimpse of the acoustic gear nestled around the Portland studio of The Decemberists’ Chris Funk—and the record took flight from there, with a core group of players (including guitarist Matt Sweeney) joining in on the mostly acoustic sessions. Despite the title, Traditional Techniques clearly doesn’t genuflect to folk traditions: Over a mess of ringing 12-strings, bass and drums, Malkmus veers into distorted noise (“Brainwashed”), multi-cultural arrangements (the flute of “ACC Kirtan”) and psychedelic freak-outs (the fuzz guitar solo on “Xian Man,” which sounds—in the most complimentary way possible—like it emerged from the brain of a late-‘60s cult leader and his devoted crew of hairy, barn-dwelling minions). And you won’t find any generic folk tropes on the lyrics sheet. Malkmus flirts with hippie imagery but in the most post-modern way possible—check out the nods to jazz bands, TED Talks and “cracked emoji’s” on the droning “Shadowbanned.” (Even possibly romantic lines are delivered with punchlines: “What kind of person makes you feel beautiful forever?” he croons in a Lou Reed-ish snarl on the tranquil “What Kind of Person.”) Some rigid Pavement fans may suggest Malkmus has jumped the shark, but there’s a zero percent chance he’ll care. With Pavement, he once sang of craving a “Range Life.” But he still has no plans to settle down.