Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Sparkle Hard


3.8
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 20th, 2018 | 28 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Malkmus’ continued exploration of guitar-rock, psychedelia, funk, and progressive/classic rock is an inspiration to any artist wondering what post-fame can bring to their artistic resume.

Living up to icon status is never easy in the musical world, especially when that ship sailed in the 1990s and you’re over fifty years of age. Maybe that’s why Stephen Malkmus, the former front man of Pavement, has been content writing modest, guitar-driven indie rock for the better part of two decades…I mean why chase even more fame, especially if that’s not the lifestyle you want?Indulging his more subdued-yet-experimental whims has resulted in a couple of outstanding projects with the Jicks, namely 2001’s self-titled album and 2011’s Mirror Traffic. Now, Sparkle Hard joins that company as one of his records with the most to offer. It’s an album that pits succinct, tightly-crafted melodies directly alongside more daring arrangements, and the whole thing couldn’t feel more interconnected.

Sparkle Hard keeps things loose and eclectic from start to finish so that surprising twists feel right at home. For example, the pulsing, spacey, and highly-synthesized “Rattler” lends credence to rumors that Malkmus may have an electronic album in the works, while the more funky, soulful “Kite” would sound like something off a mid-90s RHCP effort if only they had an affinity for three-minute guitar solos. As with most Malkmus and the Jicks ventures, Sparkle Hard is a guitar-rock album at heart, serving to both drive and guide the piece at will – from the calming acoustics of “Brethren” to the revved-up electricity of “Shiggy.” While the album is truly a mixed product in terms of style, Malkmus never totally loses his grip, keeping things tidily organized and refreshingly lightweight throughout.

There are certainly moments here that “sparkle harder” than the rest however, such as the breezy, classical strings that push “Solid Silk” into breathtakingly effervescent territory ,or the dichotomy of “Difficulties – Let Them Eat Vowels”, which begins as an ambitious, sweeping curtain call before transforming into carefree, riff-driven psychedelia. But other than a few epic zeniths, Sparkle Hard rarely ascends beyond what it is – solid indie rock painted with a very broad stylistic brush. The influences are all tied together quite nicely and explored dutifully, but they tend to be more interesting than overtly enjoyable or awe-inspiring…and that’s sort of the gist across much of the album. Take for example the penultimate “Refute”, which has twangy vocals, fiddles, and even a guest appearance by Kim Gordon. There’s obviously a lot going on, but some of the talent feels wasted on a song that floats by rather harmlessly before culminating in a very predictable harmony between the two singers. “Cast Off” deserves an honorable mention for the way it introduces the album – replete with pianos and pounding drums that gradually build like a wave ready to crash – but little else on Sparkle Hard paints all that vivid a picture.

An intriguing niche-record that occasionally meanders into greatness, Malkmus has crafted something that, at the very least, offers variation to its listeners. Even if the most worthwhile moments are a little too easy to pick off the top, Sparkle Hard remains an entirely worthwhile pursuit that resides within the upper echelon of Malkmus’ post-Pavement output. The way he experiments and progresses his sound is admirable, and it has resulted in some must-hear moments on this very record. If his best days are behind him (during his days with Pavement), then Malkmus’ continued exploration of guitar-rock, psychedelia, funk, and progressive/classic rock is an inspiration to any artist wondering what post-fame can bring to their artistic resume.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 19th 2018


26665 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

This feels like something that will unsuspectingly become a 4.5 in 6 months for no reason, still a great record now.

Digging: Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

DoofusWainwright
May 20th 2018


19850 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This seems about a 3.8 in the long run - enjoying it to a 4.2 sort of degree right now though

Digging: The The - Infected

DoofusWainwright
May 20th 2018


19850 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is about the same quality level as Brighten the Corners so a return to form for sure

zakalwe
May 20th 2018


25212 Comments


Solid Silk is class.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 20th 2018


8073 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

best album he's put out in ages.. some great stuff here..

Digging: Children's Hour - Looking for the Sun

SandwichBubble
May 20th 2018


6739 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I still haven't heard much by the jicks besides a few songs off mirror traffic. Should remedy that. Glad to hear people are giving this a warm reception though

Digging: Azra - Filigranski plocnici

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
May 20th 2018


40346 Comments


this band name is like what I would name a fictional band if I was writing a comedy set in New Zealand

Digging: Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 20th 2018


26665 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Yeah definitely cool to see mostly great ratings for this; nothing here really blew me away but it's a super solid release with very few weak points.

Sunnyvale
May 20th 2018


802 Comments


This is really great.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 20th 2018


16206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is really great so far

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 20th 2018


16206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Just finished and ready for another round. Great album

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 21st 2018


26665 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

My favorites so far are Solid Silk, Shiggy, Kite, and Difficulties/Vowels. Album is sort of back-loaded.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 21st 2018


8073 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i like refute quite a bit, even though i never really took to malkmus' dabbles in country and folk with Pavement.. kim gordon is everything though..

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 21st 2018


26665 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

song kind of annoyed me I don't know why...just felt a little too cheesy to fit in here

theBoneyKing
May 21st 2018


14801 Comments


This seems to be getting a strong reception but I feel I shouldn’t listen to it until I’ve heard the Pavement discog.

Digging: Neko Case - Hell-On

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 21st 2018


8073 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

fine, be that way..

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 21st 2018


26665 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

don't get me wrong I love cheese

MotokoKusanagi
May 22nd 2018


1437 Comments


"This seems to be getting a strong reception but I feel I shouldn’t listen to it until I’ve heard the Pavement discog"
good call

this is pretty great. solid silk makes me warm and fuzzy

Digging: Leon Vynehall - Nothing Is Still

tom79
May 22nd 2018


3632 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Looking forward to getting to know this record better. 'Middle America' is gorgeous.

Digging: Patti Smith - Horses

Dylan620
May 24th 2018


4049 Comments


"Solid Silk" and "Kite" are fantastic

Digging: Sun Kil Moon - April



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