In the nineteen years since Pavement called it a day, Stephen Malkmus has continued to forge a singular path. Retaining the idiosyncratic wit and whimsy of his days with the quintessential 90’s indie rock band, a stream of solid albums has seen the press-styled ‘King of Slacker Rock’ widen his net as a songwriter. His most recent album, Sparkle Hard, feels surprisingly rooted in the modern day, and is among his best. Currently touring the record, he’ll be stopping by Manchester’s Albert Hall on the 17 October.
Sparkle Hard is Steven Malkmus’ seventh post-Pavement release. It’s filled with good-natured tunes that manage accessibility whilst characteristically sidestepping logical arrangements and structures. ‘Solid Silk’ is the record’s seductive highlight, with Malkmus’ remarkably youthful voice offering up some lovely melodies, embellished with lush strings. ‘Shiggy’ is the record’s anthem. It’s a fuzz-drenched, drum-pounding belter that lurches towards a huge, balls to the wall guitar solo which the ‘pretend we’re not trying’ Malkmus of the 90’s would have probably shunned.
What marks this record out as different to his others is the way that it’s rooted in the present day, lyrically. Among references to things like Facebook, there are nods to movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. ‘Bike Lane’, for example, talks about the death of black youth Freddie Grey at the hands of police in Baltimore three years ago. For an artist who will always be associated with the 90’s, it feels refreshing to hear him take on subjects that feel potent in 2018.
It should be a good gig at Albert Hall. If recent setlists are anything to go by, we’re in for a tour through pretty much all of Malkmus’ solo records, as well as few flashbacks to his Pavement days. Tickets are still available.