Indie-rock icon vacations in the synth-pop realm, and it kind of (Kraft)werks.
Indie-rock icon vacations in the synth-pop realm, and it kind of (Kraft)werks. Robbie Augspurger

Stephen Malkmus, “Viktor Borgia” (Matador)

Pavement figurehead and cryptic lyricist extraordinaire Stephen Malkmus has reached the "I'll do whatever the fuck I want" stage of his career. Or perhaps he's been in that phase for a while, but only now decided that 2019 is the time to "go electronic." Whatever the case, the first single from the forthcoming, wonderfully titled Groove Denied album, "Viktor Borgia," deviates from Pavement's arch, skewed indie-rock and Malkmus's more serpentine prog-rock excursions with the Jicks. It should be interesting to see if his not inconsiderable fan base will follow the guy who also thought it was a good idea to cover CAN's Ege Bamyasi in its entirety.

The press release notes that Matador initially rejected Groove Denied, but eventually realized (if I may conjecture) that any Malkmus release, even at this late date, equals money in the bank. "Viktor Borgia" tippy-toes into earshot like one of those early new-wave/electronic forays by artists who invested as much time in their hairstyles and clothes as they did in synth-twiddling. Our guy's vocals are more stilted and effete than usual here, in keeping with the genre's tropes while the methodical, tinny beats and poinging synthesizer motif create a nice contrast. The best part of the song comes near the end: a passage of soaring, naïve melodiousness that evokes Kraftwerk in circa Ralf Und Florian/Autobahn. Regarding "Viktor Borgia," Malkmus says he was thinking "about how in the New Wave Eighties, these suburban 18-and-over dance clubs were where all the freaks would meet—a sanctuary.” Well played, sir.

Credit to Malkmus for getting out of his comfort zone at an age when most artists are content to luxuriate in said comfort zone. While I'm cautiously optimistic about the rest of Groove Denied (the press bio mentions Human League, Pete Shelley's "Homosapien," Section 25, and Cabaret Voltaire as reference points), I do foresee a Malkmus tour with Matthew Dear in the not-too-distant future.

Stephen Malkmus performs solo on Saturday, May 11 at Columbia City Theater. Groove Denied comes out on March 15.