Pavement – Slanted And Enchanted

Slanted And Enchanted (1992)


1. Summer Babe (Winter Version) 2. Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17 3. No Life Singed Her 4. In The Mouth A Desert 5. Conduit For Sale! 6. Zurich Is Stained 7. Chesley’s Little Wrists 8. Loretta’s Scars 9. Here 10. Two States 11. Perfume-V 12. Flame Throwa 13. Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era 14. Our Singer


Reviewing all these bands that made records in the early 90’s has really made me think about the impact of Nirvana on rock music. Everyone always talks about how influential Nirvana are/were, and there’s no question that I can see a clear dividing line between popular rock music pre-Nevermind and post-Nevermind. But who are Nirvana’s disciples? Pearl Jam? They were contemporaries! Foo Fighters? They share a band member, doesn’t count. How about Creed? Nickelback? Train? Those are the sorts of bands that come to my mind when I think about Nirvana’s influence. Maybe that’s unfair and is like blaming the Beatles for the Backstreet Boys – as in, the older band’s influence is so weighty over all the music that came after, good and bad, that citing crappy music as coming from their tradition could be considered seditious. And it’s true; it’d probably be hard to come up with a single rock musician who emerged after the early 90’s who wasn’t inspired by Kurt Cobain in some way. But as far as most of the artists I admire—and again, this could just be my own projection—I think they take far more after this bunch of slackers than they do Mr. Courtney Love.

Slanted & Enchanted is the album that almost immediately made Pavement the darlings of the underground, a title they have yet to fully abdicate, as evidenced by their much-hyped reunion tour last year. Now, it would be unfair to say that Pavement “invented” what we now call “indie rock” – several bands, like the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., had begun formulating the aesthetic before these guys even got in the game. But Pavement, and especially this album, had as much to do with what came after as anyone. See, it’s all “lo-fi” and shit. I don’t think a lot of young bands realize that Pavement and their DIY peers like Sebadoh and Guided By Voices only made their stuff “lo-fi” because they were poor and couldn’t actually afford to make it “hi-fi.” OK, maybe Robert Pollard did it on purpose, but that’s just because he’s been drinking beer continuously for the last 30 years, and even he eventually started making normal songs in a studio. So when young indie rock bands put a bunch of wacky, ugly noises in their songs and don’t bother to tune their instruments because they think it will make them sound just like Pavement, they’re just being stupid idiots.

Maybe Pavement were just being stupid idiots too. See, whenever I get the urge to listen to Pavement, I’ll sometimes hesitate ever so slightly because in the back of my mind, they’ll be a voice saying “blah, it’s just a bunch of dicking around and ugly noises, blah.” But then I’ll ignore that and listen and remember how many fucking terrific pop songs they wrote. It’s just that, at this early stage 1) they couldn’t afford top of the line recording or musical gear and 2) they had a sense of humor and wanted their music to reflect that, so they interspersed the pop genius tracks with a bunch of goofing around. And don’t tell me some of these songs aren’t indicators that Malkmus is indeed something of a songwriting genius. I mean, “Summer Babe” is basically the song by which all other indie rock is measured, and for good reason. Lots of this material is just teeming with hooks that sound so improbably effortless coming from these guys that one begins to wonder if they were immaculately conceived within Malkmus’ brain following a few particularly furious bong rips. But these songs are simply too catchy and smartly constructed to be simply lucked into – only truly talented people could have come up with them. Sure, they might try to distract you from the quality of the material by playing slightly out of tune, or singing in goofy voices, or highlighting Gary Young’s hilariously amateurish tappety-tap drumming, but it’s all a ruse. I mean, “Trigger Cut?” “In The Mouth A Desert?” “Loretta’s Scars?” “Perfume-V,” a 2-minute song as fun and maddeningly catchy as any 1963 Beatles song of roughly the same length? These are great, great, melodic guitar songs that I will never ever get out of my head.

I can’t really defend the whole goof-off aspect of this album with quite as much vigor, however. Plenty of people will, and claim that it was just a part of the whole Pavement package. I get that, and I actually think the joke tracks on Wowee Zowee are an integral part of that record. But I just don’t find anything all that entertaining about tracks like “Conduit For Sale!” or “Chesley’s Little Wrists,” which sounds like a whiny 6-year old trying to play a Jimi Hendrix song. And you know what? That tinny distortion effect Steve and Spiral Stairs are using is kind of ugly, isn’t it? In fact, some of this record’s finest moments come when they play with clean guitars – the 101-second gem “Zurich Is Stained” and the stunningly beautiful, hymn-like “Here,” which sonically sounds so much clearer and un-trampled than everything else on the record I wonder if it even came from the same sessions.

I guess these aren’t particularly major issues, and the fact that they mitigated or eliminated these less-than-positive aspects of their sound on their very next album tells me that they were just embracing their limited technical capacity and planned to move on as soon as they could afford to. Besides, some of the best ever Pavement songs appear on this album, and if you want to know anything about what indie rock is or means (or used to mean), you’ll probably want to come here first.

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