Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Sparkle Hard [Matador Records]
Based on a short film to coincide with Sparkle Hard, the seventh album by Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, the band’s frontman leads an idyllic life in Portland, Oregon. Between perfecting his serve on the tennis court and casual equine endeavours, Malkmus has reached a point in his career, post-Pavement and Silver Jews, where he is “beyond putting out songs because of a compulsion of creativity.”
Instead, he makes music with the band he formed almost two decades ago for self-gratification. Sparkle Hard, explores the wonderful variety in Malkmus’ songwriting. He can be sentimental, softly singing about romantic engagements to a gorgeous swell of synths and strings on Solid Silk. By the next track, a locomotive percussive pattern and snarling guitar condemn police brutality in America, citing the 2015 murder of Freddie Gray in the politically charged Bike Lane.
Throughout, Malkmus and The Jicks offer a range of tonal plains from quintessentially loud and lofty play to gentile country-twinged arrangements on Refute, a duet featuring Kim Gordon. Amongst the highlights on the record (of which there are many) include dalliances with auto-tuning on tracks Rattler and Brethren.
There are few figures in music with such influence that can retain their relevance so effortlessly. Malkmus’ vocals are fresh, the band sound invigorated, making Sparkle Hard an album that is both accomplished and fun to listen to, repeatedly.
Words – Zara Hedderman
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