I have to admit to not paying any attention to Stephen Malkmus since the demise of Pavement back in 1999, much to the consternation of my friend, Max. Max spent a lot of time in the early 00s trying to convince me of Malkmus’ genius with his new band, the Jicks. But Max also once tried to convince me of the Mouldy Peaches’ greatness. So there’s that too. Anyway, I digress. This is the first time I’ve listened to Malkmus in any serious was since Pavement went kaputski.
It seems I picked a good point to re-acquaint myself the man. In my head, I think of Malkmus and I hear his voice in the county-tinged ‘Range Life’ off Pavement’s second, classic, album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, wherein he explains how the Smashing Pumpkins don’t make much sense to him. His voice is clear and young and kinda bratty. He was 27. He’s 52 now. HIs voice has aged like fine scotch, it’s deeper and I wouldn’t recognize it if I didn’t see the name on the album. I like this version of Malkmus’ voice.
Groove Denied is perhaps his first completely solo album. His first album after Pavement split, the eponymous one from 2001, was actually recorded by the Jicks, the band he’s worked with since, but Matador wouldn’t release it under that name and insisted his name be on it. Hence, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. But this time he’s all alone, he played all the instruments, recorded the music, and produced it too.
Malkmus took a long time with this one, apparently beginning it around 2005 or so, and working on it piecemeal, until handing it to Matador Records, the label to which he has been signed since Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted, in 1992. But Matador was not happy; in what has since become a rather legendary story, Chris Lombardi, the big cheese at Matador, flew all the way from New York to Portland, OR, to personally deliver the news that Matador was not going to release it, at least not then. I’m making an educated guess in saying that the title derives from this meeting between Malkmus and Lombardi. Note how Matador released it anyway and eventually.
Groove Denied is being billed as an electronic album. It is and it’s not. It sure starts off that way with the first two songs, ‘Belziger Faceplant’ and ‘A Bit Wilder,’ both excellent tracks. On the rest of the album, the electronics are there, in terms of keyboards, throbbing bass, and, interestingly, some of Malkmus’ influences become impossible to ignore here.
‘Come Get Me,’ which is, I think, my favourite track on the album, sounds like it could’ve been produced by Liverpool’s Clinic c. 2002 or so, in the ways in which Malkmus has layered and arranged the mix of the bass, guitar, and synth, though, of course, his voice is nothing like Ade Blackburn’s warm and alienated warble. Meanwhile, ‘Forget Your Place,’ which is centred around an electronic dirge, the throb of which creates the beat, rhythm, and melody of the track. Malkmus’ layering and mix of his voice, which generally comes a pitch higher than usual, echoes the effects used by another Steve, Mason fo the Beta Band. The likeness is accentuated by the music.
‘Rushing the Acid Frat’ is decidedly not an electronic song. It’s the basic guitars, bass, drums. There’s also an organ, and then a leftfield keyboard lick comes in, which eventually veers off to sound like the Cars’ début. It’s also probably the most basic song on the album and in it, I can hear echoes of Pavement in the modulation of Malkmus’ voice. ‘Love the Door’ is something more fun, though. Beginning with electronic noise, it settles into a more basic guitars/bass/drums, but once more, the keyboards keep it leftfield, with a shimmering riff on what, along with ‘Come Get Me,’ is my favourite track on the album.
Groove Denied is a wonderful place to re-acquaint yourself with Stephen Malkmus, I’d say.