It seems like there is no genre Stephen Malkmus can’t conquer. Unlike the Berlin synth-pop sound of Groove Denied, the new album Traditional Techniques is built on a mixture of psychedelic folk and indie. Whether this release is his 2nd or 3rd solo project is up for debate, but it is certainly some of his best work yet. Not being afraid to switch it up a notch, the musician explores the sounds of somewhat peculiar instruments for an alternative rock native, building on his non-ending rhythmic experiment. Together with Chris Funk (The Decemberists), Malkmus delivered an acoustic mix of 11 tracks all of which are articulately bound by a loose sonic thread.
Opening with an unexpectedly calm sound, ‘ACC Kirtan’ endeavors auditory depth with topics like Duraflame, ganache, and serviettes. It is almost as if Lou Reed meets Bob Dylan but in the traditionally quirky Malkmus style. There is this sense of the constantly evolving tone throughout all of the 11 songs, with each composition being its own ecosystem of musical interactions. The lack of a conventional rhythm section fusing with storytelling, as done in ‘The Greatest Own In Legal History’, builds the continuous simultaneity between arrangements and lyrics. The song itself is one of incredible tactical feel delivered in an effortless indie tone.
Stephen Malkmus has been one of the defining figures of the ‘90s, with Pavement leaving a long-lasting impression that some of us are still unable to shake off. The thing is, this album does the complete opposite of the band’s music, with no vivid outbursts taking place. Traditional Techniques is very much about keeping it simple, as the instruments set the scene for the beat to introduce the raspy vocals we’ve learned to love. That is until ‘Shadowbanned’ – the track with one of a kind mixing. The exotic sound together with the sense of dread dispatched through lazy-like vocals makes it a perfectly brewed indescribable composition. Malkmus doesn’t put his full vocal range on display often, but when he does it sends an unexpected wave of charged electricity with no intention of fading. Lyrically, the song moves “over Amazon wheatfields and rivers of Red Bull. Drip gush drip data-driven ship to the part where the left bros parody TED Talks”. The singer basically summed up the last 10 years of social trends within 3 minutes in an incredibly poetic manner.
At this point, no one dares to assign one single sound to Stephen Malkmus, even with a tiny hint of Pavement in ‘Flowin’ Robe’. The man of many talents shows a new musical side with every release, as the acoustic structure evolves with each song. “Brainwash”, while still carrying a touch of tranquility, has a strong guitar and drum presence mimicking the vocal tempo. ‘Signal Western’, even with an active rhythm section, catches the listener by surprise with the entry of bass and high notes. And yet, the sound is anything but overworked. Malkmus knows how to deliver the truth, even if doing so in a humorous manner. With almost intervention-like lyrics and intense calmness, he hits a spot full of contemplation.
The societal connotation is replaced with a more personal touch only for a second, as ‘Amberjack’ takes the stage. What initially comes off as a quiet sound actually delivers one of the most emotional hits on the album. Traditional Techniques appears to have a whole array of surprises, but the biggest one is at the very end with ‘Juliefuckingette’. Whoever or whatever inspired the song deserves an endless amount of appreciation. The upbeat and at times funky sound is a lyrical masterpiece making the listener “fly high on the spearmint of Nicorette”. As the musical juxtaposition of the album moves to the abrupt end, the listener is left with the soft notes that vanish in a blink of an eye.
Traditional Techniques does not have much tradition behind it, other than Malkmus, as always, delivering the delicately crafted musical experience. The musician once again shows his versatility and whether you like it or not he isn’t here to emit Pavement sound. Sonically, this album has the potential to be the most distinct tone of the March releases, as the flute, sitar, and drowsy vocals make the album ineffable. With no end in sight, one can only guess what style Stephen Malkmus will be taking on next.