Rock ’n’ rollers discovering electronic music in their later years has became almost a familiar a story as picking up a paintbrush and taking a crack at abstract art. Symptoms of the former include suddenly singing the praises of modular synthesizer set-ups, epiphanic encounters with club culture, and wowing at the bandin-a-box potential of laptop computers (often with half an eye on a competitive tour budget). Sometimes, the change is signalled with pretentions of European sophistication, suddenly and disingenuously juxtaposed with American authenticity. The overall sensation is usually of a sleek new exoskeleton being used to prop up an ageing guitar-slinger.
In the case of electronics, and with visual art also, the narrative that an artist often tries to draw is of dedicating themselves to a somewhat grander, more abstract and therefore more selfless calling than just bashing away at a guitar. Often, though, interest in such lofty pursuits, far away from the messy, difficult stuff of grappling with people or places, betrays a lurking desire on the part of the musician to exert total control over their environment. In other words, the same old power games, which are even more a projection of the ego than getting up on stage and singing your heart out to the audience.
If the case is different with Stephen Malkmus, in part it’s due to sheer bloody-mindedness. His detour into electronic dabbling with his new album Groove Denied is as much a matter of self-indulgence as self-improvement. As he tells Raymond Cummings in this month’s cover story, “I got more focused on selfrecording, how I could [record] the way solo producers make things, like Oneohtrix Point Never or James Ferraro. I don’t think I even sound like them, but in this world there are a lot of individuals just making things – it’s just a different feel. I thought maybe I could get some inspiration, a new sound.”
A major part of the album’s charm is that it’s less
Man Machine and more a Heath Robinson contraption. There’s the same elliptical songs and voice familiar from both Pavement and his post-2000s career with The Jicks, but now with extra bells, whistles, whooshes and whirrs, all of which draw you in with perplexed fascination rather than exhilaration. You can hear the difficulty, the lack of fit. As Malkmus himself puts it, with characteristic perversity, “Why don’t I try these other things that are hard to translate to a rock band dynamic?”.
Pavement, Malkmus’s best-known group, were always a paradoxical proposition. As any fool know, they sounded a lot like The Fall and REM, but there was a unique meta quality to their stream of consciousness songwriting that meant they would steal melodies (“Everyday” by Buddy Holly on the opening of their best album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain) in a way both satirical and sincere. They were a “Conduit For Sale”, maybe, as one of their tracks put it.
If Pavement were a vehicle for Malkmus, it was a jalopy which you couldn’t fathom how it kept going but which you couldn’t take your eyes off. As the group rolled on, they became more self-referential and wrapped up in their own mythos, the vehicle became emptier and more noisy. With Groove Denied, he deserves praise for flinging the doors wide open once again.
It’s a fond goodbye this month to Gustave Evrard, vinyl deep digger, multilingual whizz-kid, canine daycare expert, a key member of our crack advertising team, and the guy who can tell you about record labels in places where you didn’t even know they had places. He departs this month for new opportunities in Europe. In the two and a half years he’s been with us, a ball of rubber bands on his desk has been growing to gargantuan size, and if we can continue his legacy, it will one day yield the biggest sub-bass bounce ever. Derek Walmsley
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Issue 421 March 2019 £4.95 ISSN 0952-0686
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Words Jennifer Lucy Allan, Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Robert Barry, Tristan Bath, Clive Bell, Abi Bliss, Marcus Boon, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Lara C Cory, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Erik Davis, Laina Dawes, Geeta Dayal, Katrina Dixon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Josh Feola, Phil Freeman, Rory Gibb, Francis Gooding, Kurt Gottschalk, Louise Gray, James Hadfield, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Ken Hollings, Maya Kalev, David Keenan, Kek-W, Biba Kopf, Matt Krefting, Neil Kulkarni, Sam Lefebvre, Dave Mandl, Howard Mandel, Wayne Marshall, Marc Masters, Noel Meek, Bill Meyer, Aurora Mitchell, Keith Moliné, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Daniel Neofetou, Louis Pattison, Ian Penman, Emily Pothast, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Chal Ravens, Tony Rettman, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Bruce Russell, Sukhdev Sandhu, Claire Sawers, Dave Segal, Peter Shapiro, Stewart Smith, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Richard Stacey, David Stubbs, Greg Tate, Richard Thomas, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Rob Turner, Zakia Uddin, Val Wilmer, Matt Wuethrich
Images Ollie Adegboye, Guy Bolongaro, David Corio, Dawit NM, Lyndon French, Amy Gwatkin, Mayumi Hosokura, Seba Kurtis, Mark Mahaney, Molly Matalon, Becky McNeel, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Rosaline Shahnavaz, Sophie Jane Stafford, Jake Walters