Call it Malkmus Machine Music. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. For his first true solo album Groove Denied, the former Pavement leader and current Jicks frontman doesn’t go full Lou Reed and dish up four sides of industrial white noise. But make no mistake: This is not your father’s Stephen Malkmus album. At least, not at first. Things begin auspiciously and weirdly with Belziger Faceplant: A one-note bassline and noisy synths dance in syncopation to a robo-funk beatbox before a few lines of kooky warbling lead into a shapeshifting synth-noodle post-rock experiment. It might be one of the most unconventional tracks Malkmus has released — and yeah, I know that’s saying something. Apparently written while he was living in Berlin shortly after the turn of the century, it’s not the only challenging moment on this disc, which Malkmus has apparently been noodling away at for over a decade — and which his record label reportedly talked him out of releasing a few years back. It’s not hard to see why. Several of the 10 songs on this noisy, claustrophobic affair feel like stream-of-consciousness constructs and sonic sculptures assembled on the fly. Guitars and live drums sometimes take a distant backseat to beatboxes, keyboards, loops and effects, with the former kept to a minimum while the others are pushed and knobtwiddled to the max, generating a near-constant stream of howls and screeches and echoes and buzzes and whatnot. But thankfully — or not, depending on how mutated you want your Malkmus — the entire disc doesn’t chase its own tail down the rabbit hole of transgression. After a few more mettle-testing oddities — including the Close Encounters synth-pop of single Viktor Borgia — Malkmus settles down somewhat, offering up some familiarly slinky and shambling guitar numbers like Come Get Me, Boss Viscerate or Ocean of Revenge. They’re still a ways from Pavement or The Jicks, but they’re close enough to keep fans from feeling totally denied.
Stephen Malkmus | Groove Denied
The former Pavement and current Jicks leader mixes it up on his new solo set.