Release Date: Mar 6, 2020
Record label: Matador
Much of the press cycle for Sparkle Hard, Stephen Malkmus 's stellar 2018 comeback with The Jicks, focused on a mysterious lo-fi electro record that Matador Records had apparently suppressed. When the aptly-named Groove Denied landed a year later, it couldn't help but disappoint, living up to the description, but only occasionally sticking the landing. Traditional Techniques was recorded around the same time as both of its two predecessors but, had tales been told of a "secret Malkmus folk album", it may have come off as just as much of a gimmick.
Later this year, Stephen Malkmus will take part in a pair of Pavement reunion shows where, if the band's reunion tour a decade ago is any predictor, he'll dutifully play the songs fans expect to hear the way they want to hear them, then move on. Malkmus has never been subtle about his disinterest in nostalgia, but in truth, he's never seemed especially interested in shaking things up, either. Since unshackling from Pavement, his solo albums with the Jicks have offered only the most minor variations on his wry, guitar-forward indie rock.
Sometimes, you love an artist so much that you just wish they’d give it a rest. Being a fan of Stephen Malkmus these days feels like what it must have felt like to be a fan of The Grateful Dead in the ’70s. So much output, in such a short space of time, and at a consistently high level, that you wish he’d just space it out a little bit.
Following the success of last year's synth-fuelled 'Groove Denied' in shifting his sound away from the '90s slacker rock he pioneered, 'Traditional Techniques' sees Stephen Malkmus take a different route into leftfield. Armed with all things acoustic, he's created eleven tracks of what only can be described as world-weary, psych-folk hummers. While the album isn't perfect, it does manage to execute his plan to perfection.'Xian Man' and 'Shadowbanned' are distinctly Pavement-esque in structure, but somehow manage to wash away the last remnants of slackerdom with a potent combo of wadaiko thumps and twisted twelve-string strums.
A lmost two decades into a solo career that appeared to have long ago lost its momentum amid a welter of endless, aimless jams, Stephen Malkmus has rediscovered the art of wrongfooting listeners. After Sparkle Hard's hook-laden return to form in 2018 and Groove Denied's adventures in early-80s electronica last year, Traditional Techniques marks another stylistic departure, this time setting the controls for the heart of the early-70s psych-folk scene. As with Groove Denied, his regular backing band the Jicks are dispensed with, his collaborators instead the Decemberists' multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, guitarist Matt Sweeney and Afghan rabab-player Qais Essar.