Album #54: Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques

  • Released: 2020
  • Origin: Stockton, California, USA
  • Label: Domino
  • Best Track: Shadowbanned

Stephen Malkmus is an artist who has explored many different genres, but what his work always has in common is it makes me think of sweltering heat. Whether it’s with Pavement, the Jicks or his solo output, hearing his music makes me envisage either golden, sun-drenched California suburbs, or arid deserts that stretch on for miles upon miles. It perhaps makes him the antithesis of Sigur Ros, whose music you can only associate with icy, glacial landscapes and bitter cold.

To a Brit, the latter is a more familiar feeling, whereas there a degree of romanticism and envy about the former, even if the heat is insufferable, which perhaps explains what draws me to it. In any case, on his second solo album, Traditional Techniques, Malkmus is immersed deep into folk and country that is unmistakably American.

The sound is a little cleaner than with Pavement, and loses a lot of the scuzz of what I’ve heard from the Jicks, but the lo-fi acoustics synonymous with Malkmus remain, with the scratching of his fingers on the fretboard audible in tracks like ‘Signal Western’ and the vaguely psychedelic ‘Xian Man’.

‘Shadowbanned’ is superb, with its twangy guitar, Malkmus’ vocals quivering up and down in pitch and quickfire, Dylan-esque lyrics brought into the 2020s (“Parody a Ted Talk”, “May the word be spread by a cracked emoji”).

I’ve given this record three spins this morning, and it probably needs a few more for me to really give it a fair hearing. So far, I like it without being crazy about it.

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