Stephen Malkmus, folk swerving – Culture / Next

It happened in parallel with our telephone conversation: Stephen Malkmus’s dog, “All crazy”, claims that he throws his ball, once, then twice, then … Out of breath while answering our morning questions, the herald of Californian indie rock proves to us with his third solo album that this is not the case for his inspiration. Strolling through one of America’s last remaining posthippic strongholds, Portland, Oregon, where he now lives, the rock-slacker totem is definitely one of the least static of his generation. Discussion a few months before the reformation of the Pavement for the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona and Porto, a great indie tour which is to celebrate its twentieth edition in June, if the sanitary climate allows it again: “Like everyone else, I am very connected and elections and the coronavirus of course infect my mind. But I don’t write music from this point of view, I don’t think of it as a tool for political resistance. It’s above all artistic and collective, playing music with people comes first, then we can find a narration and lyrics. On this new album, the music had to be exciting, the rest, we can talk about it on the Internet. ”


Today in his fifties, the former student of Jemenfoutist history brought his career in 2018 into a new era in three stages. In 2018, the intense Sparkle Hard recorded with The Jicks revealed electronic manipulations on his voice. In 2019, the solo album Groove Denied took the pulse of Berlin clubs in a synth-pop parade. This third solo album, Traditional Techniques, actually designed earlier in parallel to Sparkle Hard, reveals a new folk and acoustic Malkmus capable of surprising everyone, starting with himself if he could send a copy to the young Californian punk of the late 80s. nothing surprising for someone who always has a formula in which to sprawl: freewheel guitar, jam sessions boosted by funny and poetic texts with contorted senses. His voice, which always contradicts the correctness of his melodies, has become a blanket for Pavement fans, for whom testimonies of his disorderly life (Cut Your Hair, Spit on a Stranger or Range Life) have become hymns. But since the synth-pop album in Berlin, Stephen Malkmus has returned to Portland and had to compose, in the summer of 2019, with the loss of his friend David Berman, with whom he had founded Silver Jews. “In another era, it would have been unthinkable for me to one day make an acoustic album. My roots are Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Echo and the Bunnymen. For me, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, it was way too hip. I later learned to appreciate folk and acoustic music through a label like Drag City [maison mère de Ty Segall, Silver Jews, Jim O’Rourke… et Pavement, ndlr] who brought a psychedelic alternative to this scene too traditional for me. ”

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Stephen Malkmus thus refuses to rust by scrapping with lost time. With Chris Funk of The Decemberists, arranger in residence at Halfing Studios in Portland, where Traditional Techniques was recorded, and guitarist Matt Sweeney, who often accompanied Bonnie “Prince” Billy, he deploys a new writing more intimate but also more transcendental, where the explosive jams are relegated in favor of more harmonies.

Sure ACC Kirtan, with choirs inspired by sacred Indian music, Malkmus becomes meditative and confusing, with instead of the sitar Afghan instruments played by Qais Essar and by multi-instrumentalist Eric Zang. “The people I play with are Americans, it’s the music of their ancestors, but they live in the United States. We didn’t go looking for people from Kabul, which might or might not be problematic, it all depends on how we credit people. Right now there’s exciting things going on for the guitar in West Africa, with all of these bands in Tinariwen’s vein, ” he exhilarates himself. The album is called Traditional Techniques, but it’s “A completely ironic album title. In no case do I want to contribute to this tradition of white men playing bluegrass, we did not want to bow to this music. Rather, it is a gallery of mirrors of the music that preceded us. “

A distorting mirror, therefore, waving the specters of the Velvet Underground on What Kind of Person or Xian Man, and causing a temporal ellipse by inserting the cyber lexicon into compositions with a 60’s psyche. For example the single Shadowbanned, very themed Black Mirror, which evokes existences glitched and erased by digital. When the clip was released (where we see a transgenerational indie gratin, from Kim Gordon to Mac DeMarco), Malkmus proposed an Instagram selfie filter, allowing you to use your own face.

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Sad pocket

Because his 11 tracks composed on his 12 acoustic strings all have a smell of patchouli, of which Stephen Malkmus is well aware and that he wishes to deactivate quickly, refusing to tell us too much about the 60’s rock groups he likes for example. The sad cover of the album, which represents a sign of peace in which a spider came to weave its web in black and white, is displayed far from the kaleidoscope of the 13th Floor Elevators, of which Malkmus is a big fan. “We wanted to divert these signifiers from the music and politics of the 60s to which people could have hung this album, when in reality it was composed in a world of neoliberal ideals.” So the American tells us about tenderness, love, and vulnerability: “By singing a little lower, when we are not in” waaahaha “mode and the guitars are not” vroum “, it also changes the writing”, he assures, thunderous. Sure Signal Western, he sings about the colonization of the other, a concept he uses “From a personal point of view, in an unbalanced relationship. Loving is a bit like infecting a person. “ The music doesn’t cut it either. If Kevin Morby, safe bet of the new folk wave, has repeatedly expressed his passion for Pavement, on Cash Up Stephen Malkmus seems to have been just as affected by the compositions of this heir, to send the ball back to him in a friendly manner.

Charline lecarpentier

Stephen Malkmus Traditional Techniques (Domino).

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