Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques

His third release in three years, Traditional Techniques finds Stephen Malkmus in a more free-spirited mood

Album Review by Lewis Wade | 04 Mar 2020
  • Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques
Album title: Traditional Techniques
Artist: Stephen Malkmus
Label: Domino
Release date: 6 Mar

Traditional Techniques is the final album in a trio of releases from Stephen Malkmus in the last three years. The only binding principle behind the albums is that they're all very different from each other, just barely held together with Malkmus' distinctive imprint despite layers of squelchy synth or droning sitar.

While last year's Groove Denied was more pointed in its otherness, this album sees Malkmus in a more free-spirited mood, experimenting with Eastern-influenced textures (ACC Kirtan, Shadowbanned), employing a little clarinet (What Kind of Person) or just getting lost in a shaggy-dog tale for the hell of it (The Greatest Own in Legal History).

Malkmus jumps between storytelling and inscrutability ('no one wants to decolonise you... / What will it take to decolonise you?') so often that the occasional moments of emotional directness hit with a real force. Brainwashed, for example, starts with pleas to 'take the old thoughts away' with intimated notes of rebirth/renewal before Malkmus lays it all bare, lamenting his frustrations with the repetitive cycles of the music industry, but admitting that it's an addictive way of life.

There are more than a few nods back to Malkmus' old scrappy-slacker style (as opposed to the 'polished' rock of the Jicks), as Cash Up and What Kind of Person could easily find a home on a Pavement odds-and-ends collection. Then the closing track, Juliefuckingette, stands up amongst the best songs Malkmus has ever penned – hitting with an immediacy reminiscent of Spit On a Stranger or Zurich is Stained, drawling vocals in counterpoint to the sharp guitar lines with the sort of earwormy hook that he's never had a problem with.

It's not a record that's overly concerned with coherence, but the freedom to experiment suits Malkmus well, especially when he lets the ideas dictate the music without trying to adhere to any sort of thematic cohesion.

Listen to: Juliefuckingette, What Kind of Person, Xian Man