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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Album Review)

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 Written by Ben Gallivan

Photo: James Rexroad

For people of a certain age, Stephen Malkmus will always be a rarefied genius. Along with Messrs Kannberg, Young, Ibold, West and Nastanovich he soundtracked the ‘90s with Pavement, and he has been trading in a pretty fine line of off-kilter slacker rock ever since.

After the initial demise of Pavement at the turn of the (slow) century, Malkmus didn’t hang about. A self-titled LP was released in 2001, and what a joy it was. While similar in style to what had gone before (his drawl is quite difficult to mask) it did lean towards poppier arrangements (especially Jo Jo’s Jacket) and was well received.

Along with his Silver Jews project, Malkmus has been steadily releasing new music with the Jicks ever since. ‘Sparkle Hard’ is their seventh record, and it’s really rather good. It starts wonderfully with Cast Off, which boasts a pretty piano riff akin to the opening of Pavement’s misunderstood masterpiece ‘Wowee Zowee’.

However, unlike We Dance, which meanders along at a steady pace, this erupts into a delicious world of fuzz and majestic drums in time for the chorus. So far, so brilliant, and we’re less than three minutes in.

There’s a certain softness to Malkmus’s voice on ‘Sparkle Hard’ and he gives singing the old college try on Future Suite, which culminates in a bit of Futureheads-esque vocal styling.

Solid Silk then switches from lounge to modern classical to Krautrock with minimum effort and maximum effect, while Bike Lane sends things bubbling over. Malkmus has taken on the guise of mid-70s David Bowie in both instrumentation and vocal delivery, and despite how much the lyrical juxtaposition may confuse (designated bicycle lane/police brutality), a superb post chorus wig-out and stomping rhythm is the main takeaway.

Middle America revisits Range Life 25 years on and we’ll just leave it there in the middle of the record to do its thing. It’s fine, but the second half of ‘Sparkle Hard’ is, to use a single word, amazing. Rattler sees Malkmus experimenting with voice manipulation, while Shiggy is home to unholy amounts of fuzz guitar. It’s all delivered with the intensity and joy of someone half his 50-or-so years.

Despite the Pavement spectre, this is a record that is very much of the moment. That might be because Malkmus’s old band were aeons ahead of their time, but it also shows that he is keeping ahead of the curve and churning out tunes that are consistently head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries. ‘Sparkle Hard’ is a great record, go get it.

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Wed October 17 2018 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Thu October 18 2018 - GLASGOW SWG3 TV Studio
Fri October 19 2018 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Sun October 21 2018 - BRISTOL SWX Bristol
Mon October 22 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Asylum, Hockley
Wed October 24 2018 - LONDON Hackney Arts Centre
Thu October 25 2018 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2

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