Release Date: Mar 15, 2019
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
If you're a Stephen Malkmus super-fan you've probably been curious about Groove Denied for some time, for this is the long-mooted Malkmus electronica album. Yes, it has finally arrived: the day when the former Pavement frontman joins the long list of Nineties guitar heroes to have swapped six strings for the endless possibilities afforded by old drum machines, lots of wires, and maybe a few computer patches. Oh, except it hasn't.
However, there were clues that he was thinking about a left turn, from the autotune tomfoolery of "Rattler" to the classic arcade neon designs of the tour merch. We should have seen Groove Denied coming. This is not a drill folks, Malkmus - he of the scarecrow lankiness and lovely shagginess - has gone and made a record that has about as much in common with the sounds of Sheffield in the early '80s as it does with The Grateful Dead.
When promo copies of Stephen Malkmus' eponymous 2001 solo album began to circulate, they bore the record's working title: Swedish Reggae. It was an obvious joke that worked on two levels. There was the implicit contradiction in terms, which seemed more preposterous in a dial-up world where the internet had yet to dissolve geographic and musical boundaries; the gag was also rooted in the equally absurd notion that Stephen Malkmus would deign to make music that sounded like anyone other than himself.
Utilising Ableton Live with a slew of drum machines, the sardonic and sloppy indie-rocker Stephen Malkmus, he of Pavement and the Jicks, has come forth with a bizarre and unsettling mix of electro synth-pop. 'Groove Denied' broadens both his capabilities as a songwriter and as a studio-whizz; on 'Love The Door' and 'Ocean of Revenge', longtime fans will recognise familiar traits, while on 'Belziger Faceplant', 'Viktor Borgia', and 'A Bit Wilder', one might make a connection to his time spent immersed in Berlin's effervescent club scene. 'Groove Denied' captures the finer points of Stephen Malkmus' craftsmanship in wildly esoteric and robotic form.
It's called Groove Denied because Matador insisted on releasing Sparkle Hard, an album Stephen Malkmus recorded with his mainstay supporting band the Jicks, instead of this electronic-infused record in 2018. This back story was revealed in a May 2018 Washington Post profile of Malkmus by Geoff Edgers, an article that perhaps overplayed the label's rejection of Groove Denied. Matador maintained that its plan was to have the album appear after Sparkle Hard, which was a better record to re-introduce the ex-Pavement leader into the marketplace after a four-year hiatus.
W ith a couple of honourable exceptions - specifically his self-titled 2001 solo debut and last year's excellent Sparkle Hard - Stephen Malkmus has too often during his post-Pavement career found himself bogged down in amorphous, sub-Grateful Dead jams. Indeed, Frank Black aside, it's hard to think of a solo canon that's been quite so consistently underwhelming. Which makes this long-delayed adventure in electronica such a surprise.
The campaign for 'Groove Denied' - the first proper solo album from Stephen Malkmus - was announced with a series of gleefully anachronistic portraits of a smirking Malkmus, variously in bolo tie, aviators, a puffy-sleeved shirt, in front of a grim background de rigueur for '80s school photos. There were shades of New Romanticism and a cowboy vibe too. Was it an idea of what to expect, of what it'd sound like? Not exactly.