Stephen Malkmus Traditional Techniques Domino
Stephen Malkmus closes a run of three albums in three years not with a scuzzy synth whizzbang but a pedal steel whimper. The beloved Pavement frontman pivots away from his ‘first electronic album’ – 2019’s Groove Denied – with the aptly-titled Traditional Techniques, a beautifully composed, if altogether more conventional foray into proper folk.
Billed as “new phase folk music for new phase folks”, Malkmus casts a wide net of international sonic influences; surely it is the sole entry in his discography that counts rubab, kaval, udu and daf alongside guitars in its instrumentation. Much to his credit, these influences are subsumed into his jangly alt-pop without coming across as forced or exploitative. The rolling undulations of an Indian raga solidify the foundations of Shadowbanned, while What Kind of Person gorgeously blends indigenous wind instruments with classic Americana.
While no one can dispute the quality craftsmanship at work, it ultimately fails to capture the imagination the way that Groove Denied does. The latter still crackles with inspiration, constantly subverting the listener’s expectations and emerging with some of the most memorable tracks in Malkmus’ solo career. Traditional Techniques is polished and expertly musical, but it sounds more interested in catering to the whims of Malkmus himself than engendering any response from us.