Matador Records

Stephen Malkmus has reached rarefied air. The frontman for Pavement and the Jicks has reached a level of renown that allows him to follow whatever musical whim he might have. Last year that meant forcing fans to drink an astringent dose of laptop-constructed electronic whimsy with his first full-fledged solo effort Groove Denied. This year, Malkmus is offering up a new kind of diversion, but this one is much easier to swallow.

Recorded with the help of Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, Traditional Techniques is Malkmus’ stab at a psych-folk record in the vein of Comus’ First Utterance and fellow Oregonian Michael Hurley. It’s a sweetly rambling affair that hovers like a dust mite in a sunbeam, kept aloft by an ace group of supporters that includes master guitarist Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Zwan) and Afghan musician Qais Essar.

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But no matter who’s backing him up, Malkmus will always remain Malkmus, filling every song with oblique vocal turns and stewed lyrics that read like Beat poetry and, when filtered through his laidback cadence, like stoned digressions. “The Duraflame’s wet/The ganache won’t set/Where are the rings for my sweet serviettes?” he and guest vocalist Joy Pearson sing atop a Middle Eastern-tinged drone on album opener “ACC Kirtan.”

There are moments, though, where Malkmus more fully evokes the idealized ’60s spirit of the music. The gossamer love song “What Kind of Person?” and “Flowin’ Robes” both sound cut from the gauzy linen of the Source Family. But again, in each one, he tucks in a little sliver of doubt (“We soon discovered all is not beautiful/There’s something wrong in our heads”) or a wink to let us know that he isn’t about to move to Antelope with a slew of worshippers at his heels.

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