Here's renowned Pavementeer Stephen Malkmus with more indie rock verbosity. Sparkle Hard is his latest record as bandleader of the Jicks, and with its aggressively cheerful title, it's no surprise that he's found some peace writing from a place of joy. I'm sure there's some signature sad sighs in there, too, but it sounds like Malkmus is ready to have a good time.
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- WIGLP429X / Indies only, deluxe heavyweight coloured vinyl LP + insert on Domino
- Includes download code
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It’s plain sailing for Stephen, who doesn’t like being called that nor Steve, and his Jicks, who just have to deal with the name Steve gave them. Their first record in a hot minute, the group devised as a holiday home to the retirement residences of Pavement are relaxed as heck and probably not getting up to much today. ‘Sparkle Hard’ actually twiddles soft, a record of occasionally weird rock music that’s nevertheless at complete ease with its surroundings. Malkmus’ songwriting is not as euphoric as it's advertised, but it isn’t agitated either, instead finding peaceful slumber in the middle-ground.
Usually you come to a Malkmus record for the surreal snark found in his lyrics, but this latter-day affair is just good sunshine for the ears: the synths and acoustic strums of “Solid Silk” are heartwarming, joined with an unexpected string section that makes the whole thing sound more serene than several decades of Malkmus put together. Jangle and yacht join forces as he finds himself happy not to find new ways to be. “Bike Lane” is a goofy rock song where the rockers want you to hear them making it: “Go Freddy go!” Malkmus mutters at one point, as if activating the band, who respond with repetitive rhythmic churns and juxtaposed rock ‘n’ roll riffology that recalls the Allmans and the Dead.
“Middle America” is a countrified ditty with a tree-swaying chord progression worthy of Martin Courtney; nothing gets under its skin. “Shiggy” has the bassy low-end of Melvins but sparks up with the noisy glee of an old Built to Spill churn. “Rattler” is a fool’s errand of squelchy keys and autotune playing over a Battles-esque drumbeat. It’s inventive and evocative, but never aggressive or overboard. Fun and games is one half of ‘Sparkle Hard’ -- and with its chill, sunbathing companion songs, it kinda sounds like Malkmus is both the parents and the kids of this particular holiday.
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