There is a legacy going back decades of indie artists doing electronic solo-ish side projects. Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard teamed up with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello as The Postal Service, and put out the definitive indietronica record, Give Up (QRO deluxe edition review). But there’s also punk icon Bob Mould’s ill-fated turn-of-the-millennium turn into poorly received electronics. These days, it’s even more common, with electronics being so popular (DJs are the mainstream that today’s punks are rebelling against), and so easy to do – seemingly every artist has discovered that it’s easier to make music with ProTools and a laptop than old guitars & drums.
So it’s no surprise that iconic nineties indie-slacker Stephen Malkmus has put out a solo electronic record, Groove Denied. Unfortunately, the record itself also isn’t surprising.
Made in off-hours over twelve-plus years, all on his own, Groove sounds exactly like that, an accomplished musician noodling around on his computer in his spare time, without anyone else giving input – at least until Matador Records head Chris Lombardi in-person told Malkmus that it wasn’t the right time to release it. But sooner or later everything gets released these days, and ‘acclaimed indie-rock artist does solo electronic record’ has a definite sell hook.
But there’s not that much about Groove Denied that actually sounds like anything more than that description. From the fuzzy, unremarkable beats of opener “Belziger Faceplant” on, the album is fine, but unnecessary. Malkmus does nothing new with beats that you can make yourself on whatever device you’re using to read this. These are not club-bangers or pop hits, but Malkmus meanders that sound a lot better with his indie-jam guitar than Casio-like simple tones. Indeed, the record gets better when it gets more into his indie Malkmus warehouse, and less electronic solo side-project, such as actual singing on “Come Get Me” and indie-pop “Ocean of Revenge” (those kind of feel like rough first drafts of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks songs).
Musicians taking the time to do something different isn’t as remarkable these days, since anyone can record anything, and anyone can put out anything, with much more ease than in days of yore. So sure, SM, release the solo electronic record that means a lot to you. We’ll still just wait until the next Jicks album.