Because time can sneak up on you, anyone who stays in music for a long period is prone to either die by one sound or mix things up. Luckily for anyone who loves indie rock, Stephen Malkmus has chosen the latter path. On his new album Traditional Techniques out today, he steers his sound towards folk and recreates himself over the course of ten intriguing tracks. While yes, this is a folk album, it also isn’t. The haze of fuzz finds its way onto several tracks, proving that Stephen Malkmus has yet again, found a new way to get us to listen.
The opening track “ACC Kirtan” has Malkmus heading down a path of hazy psych with an acoustic as his lead vehicle. Sounding like himself while surrounded by an instrumentation that echoes that from a bygone era, there’s an intrigue of the mysticism the music creates. It’s as if Malkmus found a rabbit hole to head down, and he wants us to take the journey with him.This gets followed by the catchy and upbeat notes of “Xian Man.” The seesaw based meandering that inter plays with the traditional way a track by Malkmus plays out means that while the song is different, it’s not far fetched either.
But while there are songs that will bring up what Pavement would have sounded like unplugged, there’s a lot more here than just traditional tones from the indie rock superhero. “The Greatest Own in Legal History” is far more tender and more intimate than you’re used to. There’s a hearty mix of new instruments in the guitarist’s world, including a pedal steel that adds weight to the track making a sound you’ve never heard from him prior. And “Amberjack” is rife with open chords and plenty of picking tones that make you wonder if this is the same guy who wrote “The Hook.”
Between these two elements though is where the magic lies. For an artist with this much time in indie rock, it’s astounding that Stephen Malkmus can continue to reinvent while still peering through the blinds so we know it’s him. “What Kind of Person” is torn between a “Date With Ikea” tone mixed with these new approaches, creating yet another universe for the artist to thrive. The woodwind instruments here make for a nice touch, taking the sound way past the aforementioned and into new territory as he mixes past and present for something else. Of the tend tracks, our favorite came on “Signal Western” where it feels like he’s really stretching his legs. There’s a nice and honest tone to the vocals, graces of that busted amplifier sound are trickled in while Malkmus still shows off his prowess for excellent melodies coming from the least likely spaces. Traditional Techniques isn’t anything new in the grand scheme of things. But coming from Stephen Malkmus, it’s another glimpse into the heart of an artist who’s stayed relevant for over thirty years while still evolving over that time frame.
Traditional Techniques is available to purchase directly from Matador Records. It’s also ready to stream on all platforms or to purchase in all digital outlets. Stephen Malkmus is on tour starting March 31 at First Avenue in Minneapolis, MN until July 11 at Gothic Theatre in Denver, CO. His complete tour dates can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Samuel Gehrke.