AOTY 2019
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Sparkle Hard
Critic Score
Based on 26 reviews
2018 Ratings: #103 / 736
User Score
Based on 157 ratings
2018 Ratings: #405
May 18, 2018 / Release Date
LP / Format
Matador / Label
Indie Rock / Genres
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Pretty Much Amazing
If you want to know if the new Stephen Malkmus is worth your time, and haven’t been won over by a Stephen Malkmus album in some time, I’d suggest you check out tracks #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and then the entire album. Seriously, this is his best work in years.
The end result is likely the most dynamic and entertaining Jicks record thus far. You can hear Malkmus's love of classic and kraut rock in these crafty arrangements, which each get to a place where they truly shine. Hard.

Malkmus may still stand on the outside smirking, poaching different elements of the underground and mainstream, assembling them in a fashion that's undeniably unique, but the craft and cleverness of Sparkle Hard can't disguise the simple fact that he means this music, man.

FLOOD Magazine

Sparkle Hard possesses a little bit of everything Malkmus does well, from heart-snatching guitar hooks to wistful ballads and psych-rock wig-outs. But Malkmus doesn’t stop there—he chucks in spare parts from disparate genres, and the unlikely hybrids work well.


Fortunately, Sparkle Hard lives up to the hype. It is warm and approachable, filled with punchy songs, adventurous arrangements, a few admirable experiments and enough memorable moments to demand repeat plays. This is a top-tier Jicks album, alongside 2003’s Pig Lib, 2001’s self-titled effort, and 2011’s Mirror Traffic.

The Line of Best Fit

It’s hard to think of a time when he’s ever been involved in anything that was less than excellent, never mind average. Sparkle Hard continues this unfeasibly strong run he’s been on and adds a little more bang for your buck.

Northern Transmissions
While Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’s latest record sounds immediately reminiscent of so many rock albums of the seventies, it’s undeniably fresh and unique from everything that inspired it. With bizarre left turns and a sense of tone that sets his retro influence apart from his contemporaries, he makes something powerful.
Consequence of Sound

After 17 years as a solo artist, Stephen Malkmus still has the ability to delight, if perhaps not outright surprise, his audience. Sparkle Hard is at once his most sonically adventurous and structurally tight set of music in over a decade and easily stands among his most rewarding work with the Jicks.

A.V. Club

Sparkle Hard is Malkmus at his most compelling: balancing his experimental whims while revealing pieces of his arcane heart.

On ‘Sparkle Hard’ he doesn’t reinvent his own wheel but keeps it turning over with a seemingly never-ending well of ideas.

The characteristics that have kept his music with the Jicks since the early 2000s one of indie rock's more subtle but steady pleasures haven't faded in the least, and Sparkle Hard finds them at their brightest concentration.

American Songwriter

Sparkle Hard comfortably fits in alongside any of the other entries in his oeuvre, but it also feels like a more mature release. He’s mostly let go of the overt references to The Fall and Dadaist poetry that defined Pavement’s early material. Instead, he delivers the prettiest album of his recent career, one that still rocks but does so in a relaxed, contemplative manner.

Drowned in Sound
When this album is good it’s superb – probably the Jicks’ finest yet; and when it’s less so – less focused, more haphazard and wilfully out-there – it’s still pretty damn great as well.

Sparkle Hard is not ostensibly different than his last couple albums, but its arrival feels better timed—there’s been a hole in the market for indie-rock albums this impervious, compact, and good-natured.

The Guardian
Like the Fall or Captain Beefheart, Malkmus’s use of language is idiosyncratic ... but demands immersion, while – at 51 – his musical gifts are as bountiful as ever.
The Skinny
There are welcome electronic flourishes, a brief but successful flirtation with auto-tune and a lovely duet with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on Refute. But what sparkles most about this new album is the comfort you feel when Malkmus and his band do exactly what you expect.
The Observer
Now 51, the former Pavement frontman still possesses the qualities that distinguished his years with the 90s band – an off-kilter sensibility and a love of language – but there is a newfound readiness to confront the iniquities of the real world.
The PG Wodehouse of the indie generation has scarcely dealt a finer hand.

Despite its sometimes laidback nature, Sparkle Hard ... bristles with an energy that proves he’s got a place in the present, and a new accessibility that compromises none of his eccentricities.

‘Sparkle Hard’ differs as it sees Malkmus renounce (slightly) that smirking posture of indifference which we’ve grown to love him for on an album that immediately seems more effervescent and engaged than previous efforts.
An intriguing niche-record that occasionally meanders into greatness, Malkmus has crafted something that, at the very least, offers variation to its listeners.
Slant Magazine

Malkmus has been prone to juxtaposing tasteful pop songs with classic-rock elements and offbeat lyrics since Slanted and Enchanted, and the audible delight he still takes in such musical mischief is apparent throughout Sparkle Hard.

Loud and Quiet
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.
Rolling Stone

It's not quite as good as his Beck-produced 2011 album Mirror Traffic but it's a more immediate than his last LP, 2014's Wig Out at Jagbags.

Spectrum Culture

It is at once incredibly breezy and well-constructed, unconcerned with appearing like he cares too much about good songcraft, but still willing to sing about being content with bronze. It’s a good look for him, as Sparkle stands tall in the musician’s catalog, and worms its way into your heart – and ears – with every repeated listen.

The music is plainly listenable, the progressions are often entertaining and the lyrics are intricate. For fans, the minor evolution and heavier sonic palette may whet their appetite, but for anyone in search of a new revolutionary energy in the realm of indie rock, steer clear of the throne room.
Thick, groovy, deep and fun are the accurate descriptions of Sparkle Hard. Matador Records does not disappoint yet again and proves to be one of the leading labels in endorsing talented rock musicians.
Track Listing
1. Cast Off - (8.5)
2. Future Suite - (6.5)
3. Solid Silk - (7.5)
4. Bike Lane - (7.0)
5. Middle America - (8.5)
6. Rattler - (8.0)
7. Shiggy - (8.0)
8. Kite - (7.0)
9. Brethren - (7.5)
10. Refute - (6.0)
11. Difficulties - Let Them Eat Vowels - (8.0)
On 'Sparkle Hard,' Malkmus' penchant for being a musical chameleon is stronger than ever. The songs bounce between 70's psychedelic rock, kraut rock, grunge and, of course, indie rock, as well as a plethora of other influences from over the last fifty-odd years, without fully committing to any one in particular. It makes for a compelling journey, filled with twists and turns, marking what feels like his strongest release in quite some time.

Favourite tracks: Bike Lane, Rattler, Shiggy
insanely good.
Most Dad-rock album I've heard all year. Some pretty solid singles, and some creative production, but it sounds more like an echo of Malthus's past rather than a strong effort towards the future.
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Track List

  1. Cast Off
  2. Future Suite
  3. Solid Silk
  4. Bike Lane
  5. Middle America
  6. Rattler
  7. Shiggy
  8. Kite
  9. Brethren
  10. Refute
  11. Difficulties - Let Them Eat Vowels
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Added on: March 26, 2018