“Sparkle Hard” by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Review
By Spencer Smith
RIYL: Ultimate Painting, Animal Collective (mid-period), Kurt Vile
In the lifetime of pop music, time has been a bit of a bitch to its titans, elders, grandfathers…whatever you want to call them. If a band is in business longer than ten, maybe fifteen years, they tend to plummet into either crass repetition or half-baked attempts at experimentation. Whether this can be attributed to the disillusionment of fame, the loss of urgency in old age, or a drought in ideas, it is a melancholy tearful tessellation many hopeful music fans have seen repeated throughout the careers of their favorites bands. Though this epidemic was most prevalent in the 1980s, which witnessed the demise of most 60s and 70s musicians’ careers, it still happens year after year, even for the indie darlings of the early aughts in the past few years.
Fortunately, Stephen Malkmus proves unable to be affected by age yet again, delivering a unique release that paints sonic experimentation atop country-tinged wallpaper. Sparkle Hard is his seventh solo release following his decade stint in foundational indie rock band, Pavement, but he sounds as fresh and ambitious as he was in ‘92. This album is loose, but in a much more glamorous, conscious manner than the bluesily indulgent Real Emotional Trash; no, this release is overflowing with chipper melodies, glossed with subtle, groovy layers of keyboards and strings, for a patiently driven album perfect for summer.
What sets Sparkle Hard above similar easy-going efforts from Malkmus is his refusal to let listeners get too comfortable. “Middle America,” a glimmering ballad and the album’s first single, is tailed by the pounding, autotune-heavy “Rattler,” an apparently Migos-influenced cut with a massive riff thrown in after sufficient crooning. “Kite” also comes as a curveball, beginning as sparse folk, before spilling into a motorik rhythm a la Malkmus’ oft-quoted adoration for krautrock.
For every left-field track is a slice of well-executed indie rock, with clever riffs tucked into each track and a handful of bona-fide genius lyrics here and there. The occasional moments of country influence are not only unobtrusive, but welcome: the songs smirk their way through lyrical tropes, but are easily enjoyable, namely the Kim Gordon-featuring “Refute.” Overall, this is a stellar batch of songs from a continuously-enduring musician and songwriter, and somehow one of the best Malkmus solo efforts.
Check out the album:
This review was edited by Nick Jacobyansky of the WPTS Editorial Board.