Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
It’s easy to forget that indie rock is a relatively young genre. Of course its roots are firmly planted in the underground music of the sixties and seventies, music that strayed from the norm, and created something new, powerful, and, at times, frightening. From the revolutionary musings of The Velvet Underground, to the take-no-prisoners roughneck blues of The Stooges, the music was fierce, personal, and, above all, pure. Out of this template grew independent labels like ROIR and SST, and bands like Black Flag and Sonic Youth. It wasn’t until about the early 1980s that the concrete definition of indie rock was laid, thus it is a genre that isn’t as rife with classic albums as, say, jazz or even psychedelia. Sure, there are the givens: Daydream Nation, Double Nickels On The Dime, 13 Songs, but when you think of it, how many albums like these will be held with equal regard fifty years from now? Will any of these albums rank alongside The Velvet Underground & Nico or Marquee Moon? It’s hard to say. But as for Pavement’s 1991 debut full length Slanted and Enchanted? No question about it.
In 1997, frontman Stephen “SM” Malkmus jokingly told Rolling Stone that he thought his band had sold out with its first album. While he and his companion Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg spent less time in the red zone on Slanted than on their early singles (compiled in 1993 as Westing [By Musket and Sextant]), the music was no less powerful. Recorded in the garage of aging Californian drummer Gary Young, the album is a head-on blast of arty dissonance, buzzing guitars, shambled drums, and shimmering melodies. It was here that a new breed of music was born. The lyrics were abstract without being pretentious or loquacious, the songs angular without being irritating, the tone occasionally serious, but still undeniably fun. Where Pavement’s early singles and EP’s made a promise, Slanted and Enchanted delivered on it tenfold.
“Summer Babe (Winter Version)” kicks the album off in style, and gives a good indication of what was to be expected from the remaining thirteen tracks. Having little to no experience in album production, Malkmus and Kannberg did as they pleased, packing every conceivable space of tape with meandering guitars and supplementary vocals. From there they moved on to the irrepressible “Trigger Cut”, which could work as well as any other song as the Pavement anthem. Malkmus’ infamously obtuse lyrics take center stage as he bemoans “lies and betrayals, fruit covered nails, electricity and lust”. Part of the brilliance of his words is that although you would be hard pressed to discern what exactly they mean on paper, they make absolute and total sense in your head when coming from his mouth. From there, the record careens through song after classic song, from the (rather uncharacteristically) scathing “No Life Singed Her” to the bouncy “Perfume-V”, to the frantically verbose “Conduit For Sale!”, there is nary a misstep to be found.
As gratifying as those songs are, it’s on Pavement’s ballads that Malkmus truly shines. No longer hiding behind the slacker ethos of irony and defection, or his trusty distortion pedal, SM reveals himself to be as wary and vulnerable as his collegiate minions. “Here” and “Loretta’s Scars” prove to be that much more affecting given the detached veneer that he puts forth elsewhere on the album. It’s because of moments like those that Slanted and Enchanted is such a fully realized masterpiece. By the time that the stark closer “Our Singer”, a song that seems to rest on the brink of eruption for its three-minute duration, hits the speakers, there’s really nothing left to say, or play for that matter.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Slanted and Enchanted is that it is merely the sound of a band identifying themselves. The shot heard ’round the musical world was merely that from a starter’s pistol. The eight years, four albums, and two EPs that followed would establish Pavement as one of the greatest bands that the 1990s had to offer. Even those who decried their later efforts would still recognize Slanted as a musical statement of staggering importance and virtuosity. Take THAT Corgan!
By: Colin McElligatt
Published on: 2003-09-01