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Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Wear Different Musical Disguises On ‘Sparkle Hard’

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Photo: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks publicity photo
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks carved out a musical identity over the past two decades. Their sound features easygoing vocals, ragged guitar parts and a sharp sense of humor.

The Portland band tossed that sound aside for its new album, "Sparkle Hard."

"Just openness to experimenting, within a certain framework of a guitar rock band," Malkmus says. "So we limit ourselves in a way, and we also have a Bacchanalian throwdown."

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Malkmus is a godfather of indie rock, best known for his work in the ‘90s with Pavement. His music with that band and the Jicks has inspired countless other groups. But he wanted different sounds on the new songs.

"I got all these new gadgets you can buy so cheaply," he says. "It’s just one click on your credit card and you have a $100 thing that makes you sound like T-Pain."

Then the Jicks hit the studio. That’s where the music really transformed. They’d try out songs one way, then a different way, and sometimes another way after that.

Malkmus points to the opening track, “Cast Off.” He and Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme went back and forth on it.

"I had it more as this dreamy, almost My Bloody Valentine chill groove," Malkmus says. "And then she’s like, 'What about it's a piano one?'

"I have a soul version too. I have three versions. There’s an Al Green version, My Bloody Valentine version and this Neil Young version."

The Neil Young version made the final cut.

The quartet bounced around ideas, sometimes landing on music that was pretty far removed from indie rock.

"Someone starts doing a weird reggae beat and all of a sudden it’s a Jimmy Buffet version," keyboardist Mike Clark says.

The band felt a lot of freedom during the recording sessions -- though they left some of the wilder ideas in the studio.

"I’m like, 'Hey I have this funny cat meowing sample on my keyboard. Let’s do the cat-meowing version of the song!'" Clark says. "You have to draw the line there."

The music on “Sparkle Hard” sounds like a band trying on different disguises. There are those auto-tuned vocals inspired by T-Pain, a country duet, a seven-minute jam and a political protest song about police brutality.

It’s a record that’s difficult, maybe even impossible, for the Jicks to replicate outside the studio. Malkmus and drummer Jake Morris are fine with that as the band heads out on a summer tour.

"Well there is also talk of secretly wiring up our merch person to have some secret keyboards and microphones," Morris says.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks perform July 31 at the Gothic Theatre.

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