I don't know if I really have what it takes to write a review of The Sparker but I'll try to say a few things that have come to mind, and how.
First it's a bit ironic that the album's called Sparkle Hard given that it is so, well, rather dark. But I don't think it's entirely misplaced, and I'll tell you why.
I remember when I was deep into my dance studies and they seriously overlapped with some rather...intense yoga studies and practices too. An important teacher to me, his name was Ketul, he asked if we knew what a guru was and the typical answers spring up..."someone you worship," and "someone you follow and are devoted to," "a spiritual teacher who shows you the light..." and Ketul said that yes, all these things may or may not be present but that really a guru was one who shows you the light and the dark.
So a guru can be a friend, an enemy, a brief encounter with a stranger — it's a more fluid concept and reality than simply or literally a teacher-pupil type deal, nor is it intimately wed to worship of the other, of the guru.
All this exposition is in service to a point.
I've been listening to Malkmus music since '95 I think. Something like that. And even though there's plenty of music and even direct musical canons of particular groups that ALSO do this for me (somewhat, or at times), I find that Steve's music does it the most, the most consistently, and the most...explosively in terms of, for lack of a better phrase, opening me up. But more than that, opening me up into a realm of an edge that's a controlled edge while it's also not so controlled, or at least not replicably controlled, in other words, different from time to time.
Maybe it's all the stuff people say when trying to describe his words...lyrics I guess, if you can call them that in every circumstance. They're so devoid of sap and predictability and certainty that they shape shift almost ad infinitum.
But then there's a complimentary feature, though clashing or at least contrasting, in the music, in whatever, melodies, sounds, layers, structures, avenues, and wormholes.
Hopefully I'm getting to my point about this particular record.
If I say I find this record dark, and even bitter in places, and jarring and abrupt at first glance (listen) in a good many of the musical changes/collapses/drags (sorry for the lack of specifics, I'd literally have to listen and go song-by-song to go there so all I can muster at this moment is an overall wash senstation at the moment), the odd miraculous gestalt of it all delivers a whole where the weight of one moment's assertion into bleak, or into repellence, or into dissolution, decay, or ragged jolt, resolves again into light and the light is an upward spiral of mind where, at least for me, in part maybe because I have a relationship to the music in dance where I want to discover what my body can tell me about this material....and it challenges me again and again and again to let go of expectations (of what melody or beat is coming next) or let go of associations in terms of lyrical matters because they'll shimmer into another iteration before my ears and within my tactile limbs.
That's guru material at work from the seed wave of this spawn.
Last Friday, I spent a good deal of time dancing to it in a house with no other people there, no one to bug me or impede me or box me in and I don't know if it was just the absolute most perfect moment of day or what the cosmic signals were but my house faces East -West, not much Southern exposure, and a lot of windows on the North side. It's also terribly close to my neighbors on all sides, which actually means in the corners as well. I effectively have no yard and very little light and most of all no privacy — it's like a fishbowl and too often less metaphorical and more literal.
And yet this stunning thing happened when I was listening/dancing to the record. The western setting sun was reflecting off of my across the street neighbor's house and shining this unreal burst of sun into my house. Even on the north side a tremendous amount of gorgeous late afternoon dappled light seeped in. And somehow, some way, all my hanging framed art picked it all up and there were just multitudes of light in every direction. A flood.
So I'm hearing dark and sometimes even angry or repudiating themes emit from aspects of the songs — just aspects, not totally — but then getting showered with this crazy unreal light I've never seen in our house before. Ever. Not once.
And the light upward spirals of the music lit fires of Fibonacci galaxies.
And you know, when I'm dancing, my mental focus is on What is real in a grounded physical sense? How can I be real? How can I be real in my movements and how I can know when/if something is inauthentic? Or how can I discover that dance isn't all about a certain set of movements but it is about any movements that speak truth in relation to whatever else they're in relation to — music, space, people, solitude, whatever?
I hunger for that in this lifetime.
And time and again Malkmus's songs on this record cut this line that shimmers, hovers between these places, and so dark is there, yes, but dark doesn't grow weighty like, I dunno, who is weighty? Is like Nick Drake or something? It doesn't grow crippled either. I mean, I don't know much about musi, but it doesn't/
There's weight to Malkmus's lyrics and music, substance abounds, and it can veer to skirting ponderous but always remains somehow on top of the undertow. And that top deck, it, reaches like a telescoping arm with a wide net that sweeps in a tide of counterbalancing form, but form that itself never gets too light and turns to fluff. There's no fluff.
It's like sound you can trust even though its dark is truly dark. It's dangerous in there. It takes a lot of trust.
But other songs, other music I dance to is easy to comprehend and the dancing comes with little effort and it's fun and satisfying but I don't learn anything new about it, or about me, or about life. Not really. Not in a flip you upside down sense. Not like a guru showing you the "light and the dark" where the shadow is unavoidable but not fatal; even, curiously, welcome.
There's some lyrics I hear in particular on "Future Suite" that you know, I have found don't comport with what's out there on like Genius Lyrics, so they're just what I hear or what I choose to hear and what I hear just points to a kind of godhead space. Like go there, go to the godhead space, reach the godhead space, take the godhead space, welcome, come on in, it's better than you expected.
Because I fully admit of the astral plane, of the suprasensible, of the malleability in the energetic nature of existence I'm convinced Malkmus is some kind of demigod. I don't mean that in like an "I feel worshipful to him" kind of way. No. More like just observing an incarnated phenomenon at work. He's tapped in to a kind of instinct that he's able to keep restrained from crafting while simultaneously working at the highest level of craft. And it's a place, it's a mind space, and it's palpable. It's not just music, it's incantation — and in the beginning was the word, man.
Surely other musicians have this and other artists too...I mean, it's what the best artists give us. We live in a time of rationality and the iron cage triumph of Capital and of half lives in the land of the hungry ghosts. I for one crave transcendence and am fully committed to absorbing that when it's out there to...well, to dance to and to shake up known form, creative destruction. Little bit of tough love.
I've consciously made the time to dance to this record as much as possible since then and get the privacy to do so whenever possible. It's like a welcome downpour in a forever horizon of desert drought. I've even worked out some cool stuff for "Bike Lane." Wish I could dance like this at the shows because you know, live performance. But you really have to peel back into self space at shows and not alienate folks. It's good enough though, to get to have it at home because it is the hardest record of his ever to try to dance to. And that means there's a lot for me to savor, dark and light oscillations as far as the ear can hear.
Maybe sometime I'll write about the specific songs but I'd be hard pressed to do so any way other than talking about what I find in them dance wise — otherwise it's just faves and ranks and being in over my head on the music specifics. So that's my review. The Reader's Digest version is: The guru shows you the light and the dark.