Reviews

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Sparkle Hard

(Domino)

7/10

Although the Jicks have now made far more music than Stephen Malkmus’ first band Pavement ever did, it’s difficult to ignore a certain Wings-esque aura that lingers nonetheless: cosily comfortable, confident as only a band comprising four successful 50-somethings can be, and unashamed to quote their younger selves, with each passing album the sense of the Jicks as the ultimate middle-aged alt-rock comfort food becomes more entrenched.

That’s no bad thing, though, when said food is as well prepared as this. Opener ‘Cast Off’ picks out an unmistakably Malkmusian hook with its very first line, and infectious melody runs throughout, via either pleasantly chugging guitar riffs or Malkmus’ own charming tongue-twisters, delivered with as deliciously little effort as ever. Accordingly, ‘Middle America’ and ‘Refute’ both hit the sweet spot of melancholy and quirk, and even ‘Bike Lane’, a song about Freddie Gray, the black 25-year-old who was beaten to death in the back of a police van, remains eerily upbeat. Things only falter when paucity of songcraft is badly masked with novelty effects units, and even then it’s a tribute to Malkmus’ ear that a vocoder can’t entirely derail proceedings.

No amount of studio circus tricks, stacked autotuned vocals or attempts to engage with contemporary politics can disguise the continued evaporation of Malkmus’ edge and urgency, but that’s not to say that the Jicks have given up trying, and ‘Sparkle Hard’ is a perfectly pleasant album that will elegantly sate a particular hunger. No one apart from a certain kind of wilful contrarian, however, will cite it as evidence that the Jicks are the band Pavement could have been.

Support Loud And Quiet from £3 per month and we'll post you our next 9 magazines

As all of us are constantly reminded, it’s getting harder for independent publishers to stay in business, which applies to Loud And Quiet more now than ever, 14 years after we first started printing a magazine that we’ve always given away for free.

Having thought about the best way to support our running costs (the printing and distribution fees, the podcast and production costs etc.) we’d like to ask our readers who really enjoy what we do to subscribe to our next 9 issues over the next 12 months. The cheapest we can afford to do this for works out at £3 per month for UK subscribers, charged yearly.

If that seems like a bit of a punt, you can pay-as-you-go for £4 per month and cancel any time you like. European and world plans are available too, at the lowest rate we can afford.

It’s not just a donation – you’ll receive a physical copy of our magazine through your door and some extra perks detailed on our subscribe page. Digital subscriptions are available worldwide for £15 per year. We hope you consider this a good deal and the best way to keep Loud And Quiet in your life without its content, independence or existence suffering.