Stephen Malkmus had a vision … or so begins the lyrics to “Rushing The Acid Frat,” the newly released single from his forthcoming ‘Groove Denied'(out March 15th). The song title, inspired by Stephen’s memories of a specific student fraternity (think less beer-pong-bros, more “Grateful Dead druggy tie-dye” vibe) at his UVA alma mater, is a “Louie Louie”-style shindig rumpus, which he imagines as the soundtrack to a “Star Wars bar scene in such a frat … it’s kinda 12-bar but gigged with psych lyrics.”
In the accompanying video (above), created by Robert Strange and James Papper, features an animated Stephen taking a romp through LA’s Koreatown and Hollywood Forever Cemetery, followed by a trip to the moon, and back to a field on Earth (fun fact – it’s Ben Kweller’s ranch in Texas), tinged with hallucinatory enhancements.
Along with this May’s solo dates, additional shows have been added at NYC’s The Kitchen and the Art Institute Of Chicago (ticket links below).
For once, the rumors are true (some of ’em, anyway). The “rejected” electronic album that Stephen Malkmus has been alluding to over the past year will see the light of day on March 15th. That said, ‘Groove Denied’ is not a plunge into EDM or glitch-city. In fact, there aren’t any purely instrumental tracks on the album. Every song is precisely that: a song, featuring Malkmus staples like an artfully askew melody and an oblique lyric. ‘Groove Denied’ is Stephen playing hooky from his customary way of going about things, jolting himself out of a comfy routine. As Malkmus commented recently in a recent video interview, “It’s kind of funny to mess with stuff you’re not supposed to mess with.”
The first taste of Stephen’s new groove can be sampled today, with the release of single “Viktor Borgia,” and its accompanying video. The title playfully merges the name of the comedian-pianist and the ruthless dynasty of Italo-Spanish nobles. . “Yes, I was thinking things like Pete Shelley’s ‘Homosapien’, the Human League, and DIY synth music circa 1982,” says Stephen, adding “and also about how in the New Wave Eighties, these suburban 18-and-over dance clubs were where all the freaks would meet – a sanctuary.”
Stephen will embark on a brief solo tour, sans Jicks, in May. The newly announced run of dates can be found below. A full bio, composed by Simon Reynolds can be found as well.
When Stephen Malkmus first arrived on the scene in the early Nineties, as frontman and prime creative force in Pavement, the area of music with which he was associated couldn’t really have been further from the techno-rave sounds of the day. Electronic dance music, then as now, was about posthuman precision, inorganic textures, and hyper-digital clarity. Whereas the lo-fi movement in underground rock championed a messthetic of sloppiness, rough edges, and raw warmth – a hundred exquisitely subtle shades of distortion and abrasion. “Imperfect sound forever” was the rallying cry for a micro-generation of slacker-minded dreamers and misfits.
Fast forward to the present and here comes Malkmus with a surprising new project that embraces the very digital tools and procedures he’d have once gone out of his way to avoid. Groove Denied – Stephen’s first solo album without his cohorts the Jicks since 2001 – was made using Ableton’s Live, a software sequencer and “digital audio workstation” that is the preferred tool of discerning techno producers and deejays worldwide. Instead of a human-powered rhythm section of electric bass and drums, Malkmus’s arsenal further includes drum machines, along with a host of plug-in FX and “soft synths” (digital simulations of vintage electronic hardware that inhabit your computer rather than take over your entire living room).
For the first time on record, what you hear here is just Stephen and the Machine(s).
But Groove Denied is not a full-blown plunge into EDM or hiptronica, into the soundworlds of Deadmaus, Villalobos and Skee Mask. In fact, there aren’t any purely instrumental tracks on the album. Every song is precisely that: a song, featuring Malkmus staples like an artfully askew melody and an oblique lyric. But Groove Denied is Stephen playing hooky from his customary way of going about things, jolting himself out of a comfy routine. As Malkmus commented recently in a video interview, “It’s fun to mess with things that you’re not supposed to.”
This departure from the tried-and-tested stems back to earlier in this decade, when Malkmus spent a couple of years living in Berlin and was exposed to the city’s vibrant club scene Back in the Nineties, Stephen had given rave culture a wide berth, in part because of bad personal associations with the drug MDMA (he’d had “a really really bad trip” on Ecstasy in 1987, bizarrely on a visit to New York to see Miles Davis perform). But in Berlin, thanks to a younger deejay friend, Malkmus made forays into the city’s world-famous all-night party scene and became fascinated by techno. “The music can be great… you can zone out, dance, and focus on music – or just get wasted!”
It would not be entirely off-base, or an overly cute rock-historical reference, to describe Groove Denied as Stephen Malkmus’s Low. Although largely recorded in Oregon, the bulk of the album was written while he was living in Berlin. Updating his home studio with Ableton and teaching himself rudimentary Pro Tools, Malkmus “started fucking with effects and loops”. He compares the process of track-construction to the way his kids “used to make these girls on my iPhone – choosing hair colour, dresses, etc. That intuitive swipe and grab thing. Chop and move the waves. Apple computer scroll style of thinking.” It’s a very different way of making music to the feel-oriented way of coming up with chord progressions and rhythm grooves on a guitar alone or jamming with a band. And in fact, electric guitar – while it does feature on Groove Denied – is really “just color for the most part”.
Yet while the methodology behind Groove Denied is absolutely 21st Century, the reference points for the sound-palette hark back to the pre-digital era. “The electronic music side of the album, I wanted it to be sonically pre-Internet,” explains Stephen. “So the EQ-ing is a bit 1970’s, that sloppy DIY sequencing. And the influences are kinda 1981 post punk – actually quite British.” “A Bit Wilder”, one of the stand-out cuts, specifically recalls Cabaret Voltaire, its slack-stringed dank-with-reverb bass a dead ringer for the Stephen Mallinder sound. “Yes, I was thinking the Cabs – and Section 25, whose 1981 album Always Now I think is a serious underdog stoner album. That grey industrial Martin Hannett sound. But also all these cute DIY group that imitated The Cure back then – loners with 4-tracks tape recorders and dreams of “Killing An Arab”.” Malkmus says he was trying to conjure or reinhabit the “fan perspective” on things like Joy Division and the Cure – the sort of “getting it a bit wrong” that unintentionally brings something new into the world.
Groove Denied is frontloaded with this Cold Wave redux sound – a style we’ve never heard from Stephen Malkmus before. Opener “Belziger Faceplant”, for instance, features a most peculiar processed vocal that sounds withered and grotesque, like a deflated wrinkly balloon still lingering on in your house weeks after a party. “I envisioned ‘Belziger Faceplant’ as made by someone off their head after a night out in Friedrichshain,” says Malkmus, referring to a district of the former East Berlin now rife with techno clubs like the legendary Berghain. “Coming back at 5 AM, firing up the laptop in the morning light and trying to make a song, but the instruments are tripping over each other. You can’t even speak because of all the Ketamine or whatever!” Malkmus adds that he’s never tried K but “for some reason I imagine it like that”.
Then there’s “Viktor Borgia,” a title that playfully merges the name of the comedian-pianist and the ruthless dynasty of Italo-Spanish nobles. With its stately melody and the almost-English-accented vocal, the coordinates here are early Human League or even Men Without Hats. “Yes, I was thinking things like Pete Shelley’s ‘Homosapien’, the Human League, and DIY synth music circa 1982. And also about how in the New Wave Eighties, these suburban 18-and-over dance clubs were where all the freaks would meet – a sanctuary.”
“Forget Your Place” features another eerily wobbled vocal a la “Belziger Faceplant” plus dub-style detonations of submarine sonar and nagging bleeps. Frankly, it sounds pretty darn wasted. “Like ‘Belgizer’, this is a pretty solid Ableton-based track – moving waves around, finding a trippy loop and throwing an echo on it,” explains Stephen, adding that “at times it feels almost childish, working with Ableton – like finger painting. But ‘Forget Your Place’ also makes me think about death – don’t ask me why!”
Alongside the early Eighties “minimal synth” and industrial influences, the other main palette of tone-colors audible on Groove Denied is closer both to Stephen’s comfort zone and to what his fans would expect from him: “warped psych,” as he terms it, that avant-garage tradition of dirty guitars and ramshackle grooves, except that in this case, it’s “one person pretending to be a band.” That illusion is pulled off magnificently on loose ‘n’ swinging tunes like “Come Get Me” and “Love the Door,” although the electronic element manifests still with the crisp and prim pitter of drum machine beats and a spume of Moog frothing all over “Door”. Then there’s “Rushing the Acid Frat”, whose title came from Stephen’s memories of a student fraternity at the University of Virginia that, unlike the typical beery bro frathouse, had a “Grateful Dead druggy tie-dye” vibe. Malkmus imagined “Rushing” as a “Louie Louie”-style shindig rumpus to soundtrack a “Star Wars bar scene in such a frat… It’s kinda 12-bar, but gigged with psych lyrics”.
As the album enters the homestretch, it returns to more familiar Malkmusian terrain, with a warmer, grittier sound. “I did frontload Groove Denied with the stuff that signals “80’s/cold,” he says. “That stuff excited me the most – and it sounded braver. If I had another year, it could have been all in that style.” Still, with the second half offering gorgeous tunes like the hazy-lazy ramble “Bossviscerate” and the glittering “Ocean of Revenge” – both graced with his signature style of odd-angled melodic beauty – who’s complaining? Mellow closer “Grown Nothing” feels like Malkmus easing back towards the sound of his recent album with the Jicks, Sparkle Hard. In fact, although it has been released after Sparkle, 70% of Groove Denied was completed before work on the Jicks record. Indeed, Malkmus’s explorations with sound-processing influenced that album, most notably with the unexpected appearance of Auto-Tune on a couple of tracks.
Groove Denied will shake up settled notions of what Malkmus is about and what he’s capable of, repositioning him in the scheme of things. But looking at it from a different angle, his engagement with state-of-art digital tech actually makes perfect sense. After all, Nineties lo-fi – the sound in which he and Pavement were initially vaunted as leaders and pioneers – was nothing if not insistently sonic – it was all about the grain of guitar textures, about gratuitously over-done treatments and ear-grabbing effects. Noise for noise’s sake. It’s just that it was looking to older modes and antiquated technology. From the Big Muff and the Cry Baby Wah pedal through to today’s deliberately distorted deployment of pitch-correction, there’s really an unbroken continuity: the creative misuse of technology, the aestheticization of mistakes and flaws, wrongness-as-rightness.
As Stephen tweeted recently on the subject of Auto-Tune’s omnipresence in contemporary music-making: “We long 4 transformation….and we humans fucking luv tools.”
Simon Reynolds, Jan 2019
(Tour Dates, New Shows sans Jicks In Bold, On Sale Friday Jan 25, 10am Local Time)
You may have recently heard about some new Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks dates for Europe, next June. Well here we are informing you again. Thanks, Ebbinghaus.
Tuesday, June 4 – De Casino – St. Niklaas BE
Wednesday, June 5 – Knust, Hamburg, DE
Friday, June 7 – Debaser, Stockholm, SE
Tuesday, June 11 – Parkteatret, Oslo, NO
Wednesday, June 12 – Bergenfest, Bergen, NO
Friday, June 14 – Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DK
Saturday, June 15 – Traumzeit Festival, Duisberg, DE
Tuesday, June 18 – De Kreun, Kortrijk, BE
Wednesday, June 19 – La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, FR
As we reach the end of 2018, it would not be an exaggeration to say we’re in the midst of many difficult moments in human history. The icecaps are melting. America is on the brink of a constitutional crisis. You can’t walk 15 feet in any major metropolis without breaking your neck on a discarded scooter. Your personal data (including everything we collect in this campaign) is being used for nefarious means. Nearly 15% of the public believes we actually told someone to “sound more like Adele.” Nearly $40 million was spent to produce “The Hurricane Heist”
All of that said, there is still beauty, mystery, and grandeur in what’s left of the fine arts. And when you’re done with the fine arts, there’s Matador’s incredible array of 2018 titles from Belle and Sebastian, Body/Head, boygenius, Car Seat Headrest, Lucy Dacus, Iceage, Interpol, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Liz Phair, Snail Mail, Kurt Vile and Yo La Tengo. Will these records help you sort out a world gone mad? hey, they’re great, but not THAT GREAT. Almost certainly, and that’s why your friends at Matador —a label as magnanimous as it is humble — are offering an unprecedented 25% OFF when you use the code, “terribletimes” thru December 13. Orders of $40.00 and above receive a free tote bag and take it from me, a tote bag skeptic, you’re way less likely to drop shit all over the sidewalk when you have a stylish bag.
Prior to tomorrow’s show at LA’s Greek Theatre with Courtney Barnett and Waxahatchee, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks visit KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” for a live session today at 11:15 pacific time.
Stephen Malkmus interrupted an afternoon otherwise spent sitting around an empty Denver venue waiting to soundcheck with the Jicks by visiting Colorado Public Radio’s “Open Air” for the 3-song acoustic sesssion below (AND DON’T THINK WE AREN’T GRATEFUL)
The Jicks return to the road October 5 in Los Angeles supporting Courtney Barnett. Check the schedule below — there’s a new headlining date ate Brooklyn Steel on January 25 of next year.
During the first leg of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ Sparkle Hard tour, the group stopped off at KEXP’s Gathering Space in Seattle to play tracks off the new album. Those performances are online now, and The Jicks are back on the road too, performing tonight at Slim’s in San Francisco. Before their show, they’ll be live-streaming a session at Light Rail Studios at 6pm EST/3pm PST, which you can watch HERE.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks have been on a tear this year, releasing their new album Sparkle Hard, performing on CBS This Morning, releasing mini-documentaries, and touring across North America. Today, Malkmus and director Brook Linder release an acoustic version of Sparkle Hard track, “Solid Silk.”
The Jicks are back on the road beginning next Tuesday in Petaluma, carrying on to a few more sold-out dates in California. See their full itinerary below, including UK/EU dates in October.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks visited the set of “CBS This Morning” this past Saturday for performances of ‘Sparkle Hard”s “Solid Silk” and “Refute”, along with Stephen being interviewed by the program’s Anthony Mason (below)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks on tour (new date in bold) :
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks make their long-awaited early morning TV debut tomorrow (June 30) on “CBS This Morning”‘s Saturday Sessions. Check your local listings for precise times, but bear in mind the program is called “CBS This Morning”, not “CBS Roll Out Bed Whenever It’s Convenient Or You Can Stand To Face The Day”.
After a wait some might describe as “interminable”, or perhaps even “long”, ‘Sparkle Hard’, the latest & greatest album from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks is now available to purchase or download. If you’re in the Seattle area this coming Tuesday, consider making your way to KEXP’s Gathering Space at noon AND NOT SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S A LOVELY SPACE FOR GATHERING(S).
Prior to May 18’s release of their hotly anticipated ‘Sparkle Hard’, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks have unveiled another of the album’s world-class compositions, “Refute”, featuring guest vocals from Kim Gordon. Pressed to explain, Stephen’s 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.”
In addition, today marks your opportunity to take the STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS #sparklehard quiz to find out your sparkle level (YES, THAT’S WHAT IT SAYS HERE) and receive a custom @Spotify playlist with original ‘Sparkle Hard’ album art rejected by Matador’s free-expression phobic legal dept. Questions provided by the Jicks.
As a few of you sleuths (professional and otherwise) doubtlessly figured out from the earlier tour announcement and debut of “Middle America”,there’s a new album from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks on the way May 18, and it’s called ‘Sparkle Hard’. Produced by Chris Funk, the album’s prerelease track, “Shiggy” can heard today on all relevant / responsible streaming platforms.
Modesty and plain good manners might prevent them from saying so themselves, but the fact that Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks have thrived, rather than simply endured over 17 years and delivered six albums of buzzy, sub-cultural significance, constitutes an impressive legacy. The challenge with album number seven is one that any successful band with integrity faces: how to safeguard that legacy and hold on to their identity without rehashing old ground (unthinkable), and also say something meaningful while (crucially) having fun doing it?
Meeting that issue head on in the run up to The Jicks’ seventh record involved some “navel gazing”, according to singer, songwriter, and guitarist Malkmus and not only in terms of what it means to be releasing music in 2018. If, like him, you’re a voracious consumer of all kinds of culture and feel the need to interact with it, rather than just react, then inevitably “there’s a world that prompts you to put your best foot forward”. With Sparkle Hard Malkmus, Mike Clark (keyboards), Joanna Bolme (bass) and Jake Morris (drums) do exactly that. And they hit the ground running – on air treads.
It’s light ’n’ breezy, head-down heavy, audacious, melancholic and reflective, goodtime and bodacious, and it pulls off the smartest trick: it’s both unmistakeably The Jicks and – due to the streamlining of their trademark tics and turns, plus the introduction of some unexpected flourishes (Auto-Tune! A fiddle! Guest vocalist Kim Gordon! One seven-minute song with an acoustic folk intro!) – The Jicks refashioned. If 2014’s ‘Wig Out At Jag Bags’ balanced the lengthy prog workouts of ‘Pig Lib’ with ‘Mirror Traffic’’s sparky pop moments, then ‘Sparkle Hard’ bears less obvious direct relation to what’s come before. It also has turbocharged energy and enthusiasm by the truckload.
Malkmus started writing ‘Sparkle Hard’ in 2015. He’d upgraded his home-recording equipment and bought some electronic drums and had been working on the Netflix series ‘Flaked” (he penned the incidental music and the end theme song). Demos were done in one day in April of 2017 and then in May, The Jicks started recording at a new studio in Portland called Halfling, which is managed by multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk of The Decemberists, who produced the album.
Self-indulgent escapism has never been The Jicks’ bag, but on ‘Sparkle Hard’, the reality of modern life sits closer to the surface, communication cutting to the chase whether it’s a proto-punk grind or a back-porch country duet doing the talking. A cleaner burn for dark and complex times. – Sharon O’Connell
Via director Brook Linder, here’s an acoustic performance of Stephen Malkmus’ “Middle America”. The Jicks’ previously announced US tour commences June 1 ; the June 14 date at Brooklyn’s Music Hall Of Williamsburg is sold out but a second show has been added the following night (see below).
Following Tuesday’s all-too brief teaser, we’re thrilled (and maybe a little relieved) to be unveiling the first new music from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks since 2014 in the form of the new single, “Middle America”. The Jicks hit the road for a major (and minor) market tour this June ; you can probably expect more than just one new song (BUT WHO ARE WE TO DETERMINE OR EVEN SPECULATE ABOUT THIS GREAT AMERICAN BAND’S REPERTOIRE?). Tickets are on sale this Friday at 10am local time, dates are below.
It’s been a minute since The Jicks have played in NYC and that’s about to change. 4Knots Festival has enlisted them to be a headliner this year. If you’re interested in going, find all the necessary information below.
4 Knots Festival – 2015 Schedule
Super Furry Animals – 8:30pm STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS – 6:45PM
Twin Peaks – 5:45pm
Mikal Cronin – 4:45pm
Screaming Females – 3:45pm
Happyness – 2:45pm
Meatbodies – 2:05pm
Heaters – 1:25pm
Heaven – 12:40pm
Surfbort – 12:00pm
Heads up — the Jicks will be performing this afternoon at 2pm (eastern) on WNYC’s “Soundcheck” , which you can hear all over the globe at WNYC.org. In addition, here’s Monday night’s performance of “Houston Hades”, from “The Late Show With David Letterman”. And if you’re thinking this entire campaign was an awful lot of work just so we could get Letterman to say “jagbag” on TV, well, you’re not wrong.
(photo culled from Food Is The New Rock, where you can hear Joanna, Stephen and Mike discussing, y’know, food)
Barring some kind of major miracle (ie. SM knocking out a new album in the next 5 months or Colbert getting cold feet), tonight (Monday, May 19) will most likely mark Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ final appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman”, an occasion that ranks somewhere between Craig Ferguson’s final show and the David Letterman’s final appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” in terms of historical significance.
We’re told the Jicks will be performing “Houston Hades” off ‘Wigout At Jagbags’, but given the show isn’t being taped until later today, reporting this is just a tad premature. LET THE CBS CENSORS DO THEIR JOBS, that’s what I always say in these situations. They don’t show up at our place of work and tell us which critically acclaimed, commercially underwhelming records to release, nor should we poke around the Ed Sullivan Theater trying to tell them that “kids grow up really fast nowadays” and “the whole world’s a fucking sewer besides”.
It’s all happening at 11:35 eastern time, by the way, or shortly after animal trainer Jack Hanna subdues a brutish creature from either soiling or maiming the host. But enough about Dave’s old stalker — enjoy the show everybody!