What We Thought Of Stephen Malkmus’ “Traditional Techniques”

Stephen Malkmus in concert in 2014. Photo by John Bentley/REX/Shutterstock (4088182b)

Traditional Techniques is the third solo album from Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus. It returns to his 70s psych-folk roots and toys with interesting Eastern instrumentation and sharp, gripping melodies.

The album intro “ACC Kirtan” mixes world instruments with Malkmus’ 90s vocals. It plays around with a drawn-out instrumental and ties in female vocals nicely. It is a slow start to the album, but it successfully captures a mood and pulls the listener in.

“Xian Man” is a 90s-tinged spiritual journey. Malkmus sings: “You don’t need headlights to see / Open your mind back / To the love of Xian man.” The guitar riffs are crunchy and distorted. The psychedelic feel of the track works well with the poppy guitar chords. In some ways, “Xian Man” is the perfect gateway to heavier psychedelic music. And yet this is not what the rest of the album offers.

“The Greatest Own In Legal History” sounds like it has been inspired by Velvet Underground. The steady tambourine beat is similar to “Pale Blue Eyes” and Malkmus’ voice even sounds like a tribute to the late Lou Reed. From this point onwards, the album takes a lazy turn. The tracks are slow and slink along without any real hooks. Listening is a pleasant enough experience, but our attention is not as held as it perhaps was in the earlier tracks.

Skip forward a few tracks and “Amberjack” is another album highlight. The track is slow, but it doesn’t sound lazy. It sounds deliberate, heartfelt, and even heartbreaking. The chords weave into one another in a melancholy fashion and Malkmus’ voice sounds pained and broken. He croaks: “Miss you more / Life itself don’t miss / Anything at all / That’s just the way it is.” It’s tender and a triumph for Malkmus’ harrowing lyricism. It is a shame that this deep poetry does not flow through the rest of the album.

Still, the diverse instrumentation and creative use of melody are retained throughout. The twelve-string guitars are a beautiful addition and the record stays true to the atmosphere it creates in the initial track. At times, it does feel that Malkmus could have done more with his musical ideas, but Traditional Techniques is an impressive album nonetheless.