Whenever Stephen Malkmus readies a new album there’s always a sense of mystery, aloofness, or general malaise about what he’s doing. A new record seems to hold as much interest to him as buying groceries, picking up the kids from school, or having an afternoon cup of tea. Still, you can’t help but get a little excited as Malkmus is one of the great American musical treasures. He may not think so, but thousands of bummed out, burnt out 90s indie rock lovers will go down hard with disinterested limp fists thinking as much till their inevitable deaths. I’ve been one of those “music guys” that has forever thought that something was wrong with my DNA because Pavement and Malkmus solo work has never really resonated with me. Tried and failed time and time again to get my head around Malkmus. It wasn’t until I started listening to bands like Can, The Fall, and bits of Velvet Underground did the whole Pavement/Malkmus thing click. I gear more towards Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, though. I like the jammy aspect of the group, and I really kind of dig Malkmus’ guitar playing.
His newest album with the Jicks is called Sparkle Hard and it’s being released on May 18th. He’s previewed one track already called “Middle America”, a track that sees Malkmus in pop mode and it’s a beautiful little number. “Refute” is up now and it’s more of a down in the dirt country tumbler that has guest vocals by Kim Gordon. It sounds like something you might’ve heard on Wilco’s A.M., complete with fiddle and country jangle. Where 20 years ago this might’ve come off as ironic coming from Stephen Malkmus, now in 2018 it sounds natural. Hell it sounds pretty damn good, really.
About the track, Malkmus said this:
Pressed to explain, Stephen claimed his intent was to “queer the duet”, by playing with “Nashville tropes in light of current trends in evolutionary psychology” and swapping “the classic He Said/She Said narrative, where in this case the ‘wife’ is the cheater, and the omniscient narrator enters at the end to offer cold comfort.”
Sparkle Hard comes out May 18th on Matador Records. Preorder and check out “Refute” here. Watch Stephen Malkmus play and acoustic version of “Middle America” below.