For an indie rocker, Stephen Malkmus has been unusually wiling to fiddle with sports metaphors in his music, from the fractured high school football rah-rah of “Feed em to the Lions (Linden)” to the curiously combative tennis folderol of “Stop Breathing” to the chooglin’ football/relationship ditty “Rattled by the Rush,” the video for which was skewered by no less an authority on the strenuous life than Beavis and Butthead for insufficient effort (“I want you start over again, and this time try”).
What I was trying to say was, you’ve always known that Stephen Malkmus has a solid tennis game, and after you’re done with this post you’ll have proof. Today marks the release of a 10-minute promotional documentary of sorts that can also serve as the trailer to Malkmus’ sixth album with the Jicks (surpassing Pavement, if we’re measuring by full-lengths), which is called Sparkle Hard. And the framing device for the movie is footage of Malkmus working on his groundstrokes in his adopted home of Portland.
Malkmus has never transmitted an undue amount of implied tension as a frontman for two reliable-and-then-some indie rock units, and early on in the doc, he confesses that the offhandedness of his approach is still with him:
I write songs all the time, but I’m beyond just like, getting through stuff or putting stuff out because of some sort of compulsion of creativity. I mean I just try to make it interesting for myself, right? It has to have a reason.
Indeed. Malkmus was not put on this earth to bend to any “compulsions of creativity”—it’s part of his considerable charm. If the music of Pavement and the Jicks has sometimes lacked urgency, it has more than made up for it in tunefulness, noise, wordplay, and most particularly slack.
Few human beings have given me more musical pleasure, nor shaped my musical horizons, as much as Malkmus has. But those who marveled at the abrasive dada enigmas of Demolition Plot J-7 weren’t necessarily expecting that particular band to end up channeling Fleetwood Mac (”Fin”) and indulging in the 70s jumble of Terror Twilight. Malkmus was looking for something, and didn’t really care how long it took.
Sparkle Hard, which is set to be released in nine days, sounds pleasingly focused for a songwriter who likes to meander. There’s a song with the very Portland title of “Bike Lane,” that’s one of the good ones, wouldn’t sound out of place on Brighten the Corners.
There’s some urgency here. Malkmus appears to have found a reason.
More bands should put out album trailers like this one (directed by Brook Linder), it has the offhand vibe of incidental footage culled from the set of Help!