(Domino Records, out Fri 15 Mar 2019)
What’s Malkmus playing at, eh? Amid a series of cheesy promo pics, he started the year promising Groove Denied would be an electronic labour of love – his Berlin album, if you will, born of a belated embrace of club culture when he lived there a few years back. On listening, that’s not really the case. He’s sort of begun to deliver such an artefact, and then given up half way through and chucked out a regular Malkmus album.
The promising teaser track Viktor Borgia, sounding for all the world like a Vince Clarke remix of Pavement, suggested that when he talked of electronica, his head was in the early 80s. Half the album confirms that impression.
Belziger Faceplant is the sound of him twanging a rubber band while playing Space Invaders, before breaking down into some Amnesiac-era Thom Yorke fx-heavy burbling. A Bit Wilder is a Numan-esque affair dominated by gloomy bass synth.
If Viktor Borgia was Vince Clarke doing Pavement, then Come Get Me‘s retro high school surf-rock vibe suggests The Go Team! on production duties. Forget Your Place meanwhile is an Eno-esque number that prizes texture over tune with only trace elements of Malkmus detectable. Either someone else has taken vocal duties or he’s Ableton Live-d his own to Kingdom Come.
And then what would be Side Two is trad Malkmus. Some Pavement out-takes that needed using up? Rushing The Acid Frat certainly has B-side written all over it, a tossed off two minutes of wonky pop of the sort that he used to do in his sleep. Others open with a flurry of beats or electronic noise before reverting to type. Bossviscerate is a mellowed out slice of slacker indie, Ocean of Revenge namechecks Scotland and is pleasant, if a touch by-numbers, and Grown Nothing has the right end of album feel, if only that album were a different one to this.
Commit, Stephen, commit! A full electronic album could have been a quirky stylistic diversion for a man we’re well acquainted with and he’s convincing enough when he tries it. Instead, Groove Denied, is an electronic EP with what feels like scraps from the vaults bolted on. Job half done.