An indie-rock icon’s adventures in post-punk and synth-pop…

The campaign for ‘Groove Denied’ – the first proper solo album from Stephen Malkmus – was announced with a series of gleefully anachronistic portraits of a smirking Malkmus, variously in bolo tie, aviators, a puffy-sleeved shirt, in front of a grim background de rigueur for ‘80s school photos. There were shades of New Romanticism and a cowboy vibe too. Was it an idea of what to expect, of what it’d sound like? Not exactly.

The story goes that he’d been working on these tracks at home, in Berlin and Portland, submitted them to Matador who then decided it’d be best to release ‘Sparkle Hard’ first (market forces etc) but ‘Groove Denied’ is not an offcut. Much of it is actually classic Malkmus – droll, improvised lyricism and sinuous, catchy melodies – with a few added quirks.

The record’s first three tracks are warped and synth-driven, exhibiting a fondness for mucking about with DAWs. The largely instrumental ‘Belzinger Faceplant’ and ‘A Bit Wilder’ have far more in common with post-punk and dark-edged synth-pop than the tiresome country-tinged jams found on certain albums Malkmus made with the Jicks – his first post-Pavement project.

Lead single ‘Viktor Borgia’ is perhaps the most radical departure and would’ve unnerved the kind of fans who talked through a Jicks set until the Pavement numbers were rolled out. And it’s also the most in-line with what some anticipated, something more manifestly electronica-influenced.

But with the exception of eminently skippable ‘Forget Your Place’, the rest of ‘Groove Denied’ should be more familiar: the trebly, hummable ‘Come Get Me’, blithe flashback to uni ‘Rushing The Acid Frat’, the woozy guitar of ‘Grown Nothing’. The intro to ‘Love The Door’ is fairly bonkers but quickly segues into that that by now well-known blend of swagger (groove) and spideriness (riff).

The lyrical framework in which he operates is fairly supple and improvisatory, though there are some surprisingly tender lines here and there. Structures and voicings are stripped back but viscid synths and odd, glitchy effects whir in the background.

Whereas on ‘Terror Twilight’ (Pavement’s final LP) some of this might’ve felt phoned in, a bit extraneous, here it feels natural precisely because it’s done on Malkmus’s own terms.

7/10

Words: Wilf Skinner

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