STEPHEN MALKMUS Traditional Techniques gets 7.5/10

Stephen Malkmus

Traditional Techniques
Matador/Remote Control


Having been given the gift of social media, 90s music tragics tend to treat artists as a source of amusement, and fodder for their self-referencing 20s neurosis. The predisposition for middle age indie rock dads to assume artists make music ‘for fun’, has taken over from genuine fandom or the ‘holy shit’ moment when you hear something you can apply and use yourself (Pavement). Our indie rock heroes are now in their 50s, most have children or dependents and a certain sheen has been stripped over time as the audience has aged with them, or perhaps the advent of social media has knocked down these once almost impenetrable walls. In the real world, these artists have to work so what comes as a source of amusement is the livelihood and survival of the artist and his brood.

Stephen Malkmus is no different. He has to work. He’s made three albums in three years. Two of which do not feature The Jicks – his band of almost 20 years. All three of these releases are vastly different from the other. 2018’s Sparkle Hard featuring The Jicks was pure prog-pop brilliance. Last year’s Groove Denied was a mostly electronic, experimental LP made up of song fragments collected over 12 years. Now he is set to release a folk rock album called Traditional Techniques which begs the question – is it a case of Malkmus throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks? Maybe a little. But no matter our field of employment, we want to keep it interesting, less stagnate and if we’re lucky, want to do it until our last working day.

After listening to Traditional Techniques, I believe this is his modus operandi.

The album opener AAC Kirtanis a long psychedelic folk offering that slowly builds from a plaintive narrative to an extended jam, however, it is done with more success and intent on the following track Xian Man. Gnarly lead guitar tones are the closest thing to The Jicks and not surprisingly it is the lead single. One of the album’s lyrical highlights is The Greatest Own In Legal History, but the song also boasts a very typical Malkmusian descending and ascending riff which fans like me never tire of.

Assisted by Matt Sweeney (whose work includes the brilliant Superwolf album with Bonny Prince Billy), his work here on slide and ‘vibe’ guitar is a perfect complement to Malkmus’ vocal approach, especially on Shadowbanned which features his trademark squeaky inflections, otherwise missing from this record but perfect for this song. Brainwashed is another highlight and is reminiscent of the guitar work on the first two Malkmus solo albums. He strays on Flowin’ Robes and Signal Western, where we are getting more of Sweeney’s fingerprints in their alt-country arrangements and performance.

Trad-folk fans not familiar with Malkmus may seek a more conventional vocalist to accompany the at times sweet and plaintive picking of the 12-string but there’s enough here for trad-Malkmus fans to feast on, with some of his best lyrics ever, excellent singing and mostly, exceptional and enjoyable-to-listen-to songs. I know few artists of his generation that have never made a dud record. He is still working. What a gift.


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