When Stephen Malkmus first arrived on the scene in the early Nineties, as frontman and prime creative force in Pavement, the area of music with which he was associated couldn’t really have been further from the techno-rave sounds of the day.
Fast forward to the present and here comes Malkmus with Groove Denied – Stephen’s first solo album without his cohorts the Jicks since 2001. Made using Ableton’s Live, instead of a human-powered rhythm section, Malkmus’s arsenal further included drum machines, along with a host of plug-in FX and “soft synths”.
This departure from the tried-and-tested stems back to earlier in this decade, when Malkmus spent a couple of years living in Berlin and was exposed to the city’s vibrant club scene. Back in the Nineties, Stephen had given rave culture a wide berth, in part because of bad personal associations with the drug MDMA (he’d had “a really really bad trip” on Ecstasy in 1987, bizarrely on a visit to New York to see Miles Davis perform).
It would not be entirely off-base, or an overly cute rock-historical reference, to describe Groove Denied as Stephen Malkmus’s Low. Although largely recorded in Oregon, the bulk of the album was written while he was living in Berlin. And whilst the methodology behind Groove Denied is absolutely 21st Century, the reference points for the sound-palette hark back to the pre-digital era.
Groove Denied will shake up settled notions of what Malkmus is about and what he’s capable of, re-positioning him in the scheme of things. But looking at it from a different angle, his engagement with state-of-art digital tech actually makes perfect sense.