Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' seventh record, Sparkle Hard, is light 'n' breezy, head-down heavy, audacious, melancholic and reflective, a goodtime and bodacious, and it pulls off the smartest trick: it's both unmistakeably The Jicks and – due to the streamlining of their trademark tics and turns, plus the introduction of some unexpected flourishes (Auto-Tune! A fiddle! Guest vocalist Kim Gordon! One seven-minute song with an acoustic folk intro!) – The Jicks refashioned. If 2014's Wig Out At Jag Bags balanced the lengthy prog workouts of Pig Lib with Mirror Traffic's sparky pop moments, then Sparkle Hard bears less obvious direct relation to what's come before. It also has turbocharged energy and enthusiasm by the truckload.
Malkmus started writing Sparkle Hard in 2015. He'd upgraded his home-recording equipment and bought some electronic drums and had been working on the Netflix series Flaked (he penned the incidental music and the end theme song). Demos were done in one day in April of 2017 and then in May, The Jicks started recording at a new studio in Portland called Halfling, which is managed by multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk of The Decemberists, who produced the album. Self-indulgent escapism has never been The Jicks' bag, but on Sparkle Hard, the reality of modern life sits closer to the surface, communication cutting to the chase whether it's a proto-punk grind or a back-porch country duet doing the talking. A cleaner burn for dark and complex times.