Tuesday, September 4, 2007

No. 134: Slanted and Enchanted

Band: Pavement
Album: Slanted and Enchanted
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Indie rock's poster boys don't need a lot of introduction other than to say that they were great. Stephen Malkmus' stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Scott Kannberg's guitar work and, together, their Fall-inspired rhythms combined to make a sound that was imitated (to some success), but without the pop sensibilities Pavement had.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not sure "Slanted" is Pavement's best work and I'm not sure this placement isn't more a statement about indie rock in general than a statement about Pavement.
Best song: "Summer Babe" is about as good as it gets and "Conduit For Sale!" is rocking, dissonant fun.
Worst song:"Two States" isnt great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Formed in Stockton, California, Pavement is probably the template for indie rock. The band's pop tendencies, clearly aped from college rock bands R.E.M., The Replacements and The Fall, belied the quirkiness of rhythm and lyric. All the while, a punk sensibility peppers the band's work, as their feedback chorus of "I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying" repeated in "Conduit For Sale" shows.

It's a great combination. On their debut record, Pavement dared to be referential, hitting pop culture targets, sort of current events ("In The Mouth Of A Desert") and personal emotion/relationships ("Zurich Is Stained").

Still, Malkmus is positively Dylan-esque in weaving his narratives. Some of his song titles have the pompous glow of academia (Malkmus was educated at prestigious University of Virginia) while his lyrics reflect often reflect the simple intricacies of everyday life. The soft arpeggiated guitars of "Here" weave around Malkmus' voice, while the low-in-the-mix distorted guitar is the atmosphere for Malkmus screaming and swearing on "No Life Singed Her."

"No Life Singed Her" is also where the band splits from jangly college radio rock of R.E.M. and The Fall. The near chaos of the song is a lesson in controlled distortion that Steve Albini made infamous in Big Black and that Sonic Youth then influenced Nirvana with, as well. As much as Nirvana was punking up the rock charts in 1992 with Black Sabbath-meets-Black Flag, Pavement was modifying college radio into indie rock as we know it now.

Stockton engineer Gary Young -- also the band's first drummer -- once remarked "this Malkmus idiot is a complete songwriting genius," about as fitting a description as one can have. Young eventually was kicked out of the band -- he was a former Bay Area hippie, which means he did a lot of drugs -- after he pulled a gun on Malkmus while on tour.

Indie rock isn't well represented on this list, mostly because it's nearly indefinable. Still, Pavement are the standard-bearers of the genre and the band most cited by those not familiar with indie rock. "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" is my favorite Pavement record -- probably their most accessible --, but "Slanted" is where it all starts, basically. The template is there and boy, is it executed well by Malkmus and Co.

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