Amid a good deal of hype that I thought was largely bullshit at the start of the new year, Stephen Malkmus was said to be prepping an album of electronica. Groove Denied, arriving Friday on Matador Records, features a lot of keyboards but it feels, for the most part, like a Malkmus record, not like, say, one from Aphex Twin.
Of course, Groove Denied contains a handful of numbers that sound as much like Pavement and solo Malkmus as God will allow, electronic effects be damned. "Rushing The Acid Frat" is all stoned sluggishness, the sort of lazily catchy sort of thing that Super Furry Animals still routinely crank out, while "Come Get Me" is even more interesting, waves of instrumentation and samples washing over the kind of melody the Beach Boys would have killed for in the early Seventies. And while the first three cuts here on Groove Denied owe huge debts to Frank Tovey and Fad Gadget, they're also easy to love, especially the affected "Viktor Borgia", a fairly chirpy ramble. Some of what's here on this short record, specifically the lilting hesitation of "Ocean of Revenge", and the spry indie of "Love the Door", feels just familiar enough to please a fan of any era of this man's wonderful career. And yet, the real highlight of Groove Denied, a long-player billed as electronica, is the ballad, "Grown Nothing", that closes this album in a fashion that suggests nothing so much as "Major Leagues" rewritten by Nilsson. It's an absolutely stunning track and the sort of thing that nearly floored me when I heard it the first time.
Maybe the loads of copy about the new direction the former Pavement singer was going to pursue on Groove Denied set fans up for disappointment at the prospect of something wildly experimental arriving right after Sparkle Hard. But instead of making something truly transgressive, Malkmus went and crafted a record that feels at once somewhat disposable in terms of his solo work, and yet entirely endearing. Groove Denied is, at least in spots, nearly as pleasurable a listen as Stephen Malmus from years ago. And for a release that was pitched as a new direction for this guy, the best numbers on Groove Denied seem more natural than some of the moments on past post-Pavement releases where Stephen Malkmus sounded like he was desperately chasing the ghost of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. If the melodies here are, largely, more languid than on some of his better albums, the selections are also a lot more fun than some of his more indulgent compositions with The Jicks.
Groove Denied is out on Friday via Matador Records.
[Photo: Robbie Augspurger]