Monday, November 19, 2007

[025] Slanted And Enchanted

Album: Slanted And Enchanted
Artist: Pavement
Release Date: April 1992
Label: Matador
Producers: Pavement

"Can you treat it like an oil well
When it's underground, out of sight?"
- from "In The Mouth A Desert"

Honestly, what made Pavement so special?? Was it simply the stars aligning? Yeah, it kinda was. I mean, sure, they had amazing songs disguised as rough sketches, and Stephen Malkmus looked like a less vampiric Tom Verlaine, recasting the Punk Rock poster boy from the NY Bowery to the sunny hills of Cali; but there wasn't much difference between them and Sebadoh or Guided By Voices, off following Sonic Youth and R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü and The Replacements down the long American underground highway. It was an amazing case of right place, right time, that specific moment when the glory days of the 80's were breaking down like so many used tour vans, all the big names signed to major labels, leaving the independent labels mostly empty. They needed a new standard-bearer, and Matador stepped in, placing a call to the Pavement Batphone in that hallowed Stockton, CA garage. The infamous promotional cassette of Slanted & Enchanted got passed around to the right people during the summer of 1991, before Nevermind mind you, and from an enraptured Spin review more than six months before the album’s release, their legend was born, the new rumor of the post-hardcore newly-minted Alternative landscape. By the time the album actually came out, Pavement had a small but devoted audience waiting patiently for their sloppy genius.

Me? I was uneducated for all this time. I've owned Slanted for years, ya know, for completist sake, one of those "classics you must own", and I pulled it out time to time, and never really got it. And then one day, I did, and it was like a whole world had opened for me. It’s nice to know that this album can still have the same effect that it had way back then. It’s like I was saying when I was talking about TV on the Radio – I don’t have to freak out in a record store for a while, because now I can go back and buy all of Pavement’s albums and EPs and singles. That should keep me occupied for a bit. Surely their legendary status is helped by their belief in the vinyl collectors market, dropping 45’s and 10” mini-albums on your ass, hoping to be that whisper, like the 90’s version of The Sonics or The Count Five. But Slanted & Enchanted was too good to not get noticed; instead of being a one-hit wonder, Pavement made an album so good that it was like the classic Nuggets compilation was made by one band, a dusty, obscured spinning disc of mysterious, fucked-up Power-Pop that sounded like it was recorded on a cassette in a boombox.

Admittedly not being an expert in Pavement, this blog afforded me the opportunity to learn about one of the most loved bands of the 90’s. They were the definition of the “Slacker” aesthetic, which nowadays sounds like an insult, but it was still kind of a genre buzzword back in the day. I mean Stephen “S.M.” Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg were guitar nerds in too-big hand-me-downs, and their drummer, Gary Young, was basically a fuckin’ burnout from the 60’s, and everything you read about the band will tell you this, like it described their sound, and it sorta does. I mean I think back to my time at college radio, around 1995, and all the Pavement fans I worked with were kinda geeky but not bookworms, and they were kinda potheads but not hippies, and they were just super laidback, and so the band was definitely attracting fans like themselves. It spoke to spirit of Pavement, their style, at least better than all the critics who wanted to toss references to The Fall around. Seriously, I cracked six fat books and read a bunch of websites for this album, and every one mentions The Fall. OK, seriously, I hear it…a couple times…but fuck, calm down and come off your hipster high horse. Pavement weren’t a rip-off group. They were at least as original in their own right, if not more. And here’s a secret – Pavement was fun and Pavement had melody. Yeah, sorry, but I’d say S.M. and Spiral Stairs were listening to the Buzzcocks and Wire’s Pink Flag as much as anything by Mark E. Smith’s collective. Shit, I’d even say The Monkees and The Archies were as big an influence, and in an unironic, unsmarmy way, so suck on that, really. At the end of the day, This Nation’s Saving Grace is good and all that, but the world is going to love Pavement more, as it should be.

“Summer Babe” is one of those Indie Rock songs…wait, I have to back up. Pavement, to me, are “Indie Rock”. Even before I’d heard them, if someone said the words “indie rock”, I thought of Pavement. And it’s not just because they were on Matador instead or Warner or wherever, but it helps; and I know I’m not the only one that thinks about them like this, so I’d say they’re worth a look just from that point of view, the embodiment of a genre. OK, back to “Summer Babe” – it’s one of those classic fuzzed out Power Pop songs, maybe in an alternate world it was a Jesus & Mary Chain single or a B-Side by The Who from their early days played too slow on the wrong setting. It sets the lyrical tone for the rest of Slanted, continuing the Rock rule that lyrics are better when indecipherable and cryptic, but shit, they give you the lyrics in the liner notes and they still don’t make any sense. Malkmus knows too, cuz right before he lets out that straight-faced bellow of “you took it all”, he chuckles and shows the crack. Here in the present, so many of these songs don’t seem overly special, but that’s because this album has shaped the entirety of the fifteen years since its release. In the bouncy “Trigger Cut”, I hear dozens of young bands plugging in their guitars, and dozens of professional ones changing their minds (I’m looking in your direction, Blur)

That’s the genius of this album – it’s aimed at the kid in you. It’s the devil on your shoulder, “You can do this.” And it’s true, the whole country sprouted garage bands in the wake of Slanted just like with the Nuggets comp. Shit, if you couldn’t play “Conduit For Sale!” you weren’t trying hard enough. You can do it. In some cases you don’t even need a bass. Turn it up to 11 and blast out the lazy, steel-wool-distortion of “In The Mouth A Desert”, or the shoegazing pixie-stick of “Perfume-V”. And it wasn’t just noisy nonsense; as the album went on, the guitar playing got better, and their choice of sounds got more unique and specific. “Fame Throwa” has a bunch of guitar tangents narrowly dodging each other, with Young’s off-kilter thud and some sha-la-la’s. They had some of the best Pop songs, like the regretful “Zurich Is Stained”, the glam stomp of “Two States”, and of course the slacker power ballad “Here”. There were plenty of wonderful, dorky basement moments; the band probably had their Jonathan Richman, Violent Femmes and The Feelies filed right next to their Hüskers and The ‘Mats. Pavement were also the perfect band for your college years, because any younger than 16 or 17 and you weren’t going to get them, and any older than 25 and you were almost too mature for them. But where does that leave me now, as a certified 30-something? Well, as the show-stopper “Our Singer” comes to a close on my iTunes, it jumps to “Spit On A Stranger” from the band’s last album, 1998’s Terror Twilight, and even though it’s clean and shiny and produced in a real studio instead of in a garage, it’s still Pavement; that sun-kissed California sound stayed the same. And it shows that the band can grow with you; you don’t have to be “waitin’…anticipatin’”, like Malkmus is on “Our Singer”. If only he knew, in ’91, where he’d end up; his band would end up special, and totally deserve it.

01. "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"
02. "Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17"
03. "No Life Singed Her"
04. "In The Mouth A Desert"
05. "Conduit For Sale!"
06. "Zurich Is Stained"
07. "Chesley's Little Wrists"
08. "Loretta's Scars"
09. "Here"
10. "Two States"
11. "Perfume-V"
12. "Fame Throwa"
13. "Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era"
14. "Our Singer"

"Summer Babe" [live in London, 12.92]

"Trigger Cut" [live in Belgium, 1992]

"Here" [video]

"Perfume-V" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]

- BONUS: "Summer Babe" [live in Cologne, 03.94]
- BONUS: "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" [audio]
- BONUS: "Trigger Cut" [live in NYC, 08.91]
- BONUS: "No Life Singed Her" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "In The Mouth A Desert" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Conduit For Sale!" [live, 1996]
- BONUS: "Zurich Is Stained" [live, 1999?]
- BONUS: "Loretta's Scars" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "Here" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "Here" [audio]
- BONUS: "Perfume-V" [live video]

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