Sparkle Hard by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Release date: May 18, 2018
Label: Domino Records

Stephen Malkmus can easily pick up the nickname of ‘the baffler’. Under his own name and with The Jicks he has produced Sparkle Hard, his seventh album, but still, a lot of people who pay attention to his music would prefer to remember him by his Pavement albums, of which there are five (official ones, at least). Actually, make that Pavement’s first two albums. The ones that brought him the title of the post-punk innovator.

Unfortunately for the die-hard fans of that sound and fortunately for everybody else, Malkmus was, and still is one of those musical encyclopaedists that wants to try everything he likes in music (and culture) and play it. With Pavement’s Wowie Zowie (who names an album after a more obscure Fran Zappa ditty?) it became evident that Malkmus will throw in everything, including a kitchen sink, be it pure pop pap or progressive musings akin to Pink Floyd and Yes.

The thing is, and Sparkle Hard is just another proof of it, Malkmus is able to turn that everything, including that pop (“Middle America”) and the old progressive kitchen sink (“Rattler”) into some exquisite music. And while he’s coming up with some ‘thinking music’, he’s having incredible fun too, hoping that the listeners will too.

Which with Sparkle Hard they certainly should. It took Malkmus and the band four years to come up with this album, which in a way covers more or less everything he has done so far – from the ‘pure Pavement’ sound of “Shiggy” (you find out who, or what that is) to ‘almost ballads’ that constantly turn into something else of the opener “Cast Off”, “Kites” and closer “Difficulties/Let Them Eat Words”, to everything in between.

Actually, with Malkmus, it was always everything in between, but done with style and aplomb, making it sound like that was exactly the way it should. This time with Sparkle Hard even better. Basically, he’s having his cake and eating it too.

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