Stephen Malkmus – Groove Denied

Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus delivers his infamous "lost" electronic solo album, and it's a showcase of the indie rock titan's willingness to experiment

Album Review by Tony Inglis | 12 Mar 2019
  • Stephen Malkmus – Groove Denied
Album title: Groove Denied
Artist: Stephen Malkmus
Label: Domino
Release date: 15 Mar

What does an electronic Stephen Malkmus record sound like? It’s not a prospect many would have anticipated, perhaps even wanted. It was a little too much to handle for Matador, settling for the excellent if more traditionally Malkmusian Sparkle Hard, which Malkmus (alongside his Jicks) released last year. Would a foray into experimentation with sequencers and synths be a case of the indie rock old guard dabbling headstrong in something they shouldn’t mess with? Would it sound like the Electro episode of The Mighty Boosh?

The truth is less shocking, but relieving. Groove Denied, the former Pavement mastermind’s much mooted record of Ableton-created, drum machine driven, vocal manipulating jams is perhaps better than it has any right to be.

The tag of ‘electronic album’ is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, it’s factually correct – Malkmus is doing this all by himself, utilising tech rather than a four-piece. While some of these tracks are truly outliers in the vast Malkmus discography, some, such as the loose Come Get Me, wouldn’t sound out of place on Wowee Zowee.

People are expecting something a bit tongue-in-cheek. Luckily, Malkmus knows this too. Belziger Faceplant begins the record whizzing and whirring and wheezing, with some histrionic, gurgling vocals – a little all over the place. But after a rush and a pause, it breaks into a rising techno strut; in this instance, groove very much accepted.

The following A Bit Wilder is Seventeen Seconds era The Cure gothic pop, as sung by a crooning James Murphy (which is interesting considering Malkmus only just listened to him). Bossviscerate is almost plaintive. The latter half of the record will feel more familiar to even his most fleeting fans, but all of it is imbued with that slightly askew charm found throughout his work, regardless of its form.

In the end, Groove Denied doesn’t see Malkmus go full EDM raver, or embrace abstract ambience (although mid-album highlight Forget Your Place approaches its fringes). What it does signify is a willingness to embrace and learn the uncomfortable from a prolific artist whose output may have seemed set in its ways. Malkmus’ continuing willingness to think outside the box is much appreciated.

Listen to: A Bit Wilder, Come Get Me, Forget Your Place