Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Credit: James Rexroad

The music of Stephen Malkmus can roughly be divided among his three main bands: Pavement, the Jicks, and Silver Jews. For better or for worse, Pavement tend to overshadow the other two—their rough, fuzzed-out music and enigmatic, humorous lyrics made them alt-rock darlings during the genre’s 90s heyday, and their stamp on indie rock has been felt ever since. But though Pavement were done with making music in 1999, Malkmus was not. Soon after the band split up, he formed Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, and he’s been consistently releasing albums with them ever since. Pavement is known for its raw sound and classic indie-rock conventions, but in the Jicks, Malkmus gets away from any self-imposed limitations and constrictions, with vintage synths, strings, and winds making more frequent appearances than they did in his earlier band. For Malkmus, his era with the Jicks is one of exploration, and the group’s seventh album, May’s Sparkle Hard, effectively captures that spirit. On “Rattler,” Malkmus’s Auto-Tune vocals float atop pulsing and filtered synths before they’re interrupted by overdriven guitar lines that play up the contrast between smooth electronics and rock grit. “Solid Silk” has a much more somber and melancholic atmosphere—while the funky 80s-sounding synths on the track might sound a bit jarring on their own, the lush string arrangements and warm, swirling guitars that accompany Malkmus’s lilting vocals give them a different context. By incorporating slew of new and old sounds from across Malkmus’s career as well as fresh changes in energy and dynamics, Sparkle Hard shows how a songwriter can evolve over the course of 30 years. But even if I didn’t find that progression fascinating, I’m still a sucker for any artist who unexpectedly and tastefully uses Auto-Tune.  v