October 24, 2002

Having Paved the Way

Print More

The only reason Pavement has not and will not reach the mythical stature of a band like Nirvana is because Stephen Malkmus never put a gun in his mouth. This, of course, is not to say that he should go marry Courtney Love and meet Cobain’s end. But for Christ’s sake, how can there still be people who have never heard of Pavement? The band is condemned to an eternity undergound — beneath the blacktop so to speak — and that is a large source of their enigma.

Slanted and Enchanted was initially released in 1992, the same year as Nirvana’s critical landmark Nevermind. Along with the like-minded band Sebadoh, the album helped to establish an entire indie subgenre, the lo-fidelity movement of the ’90s. The album is crucial, classic, canonical; it shows that Pavement is actually worthy of the endless and obtuse titles they have garnered. “Quintessential Indie Band.” “Slacker Kings.” “Lo-fi Saints.” And on and on. Without Pavement, there’d be no Weezer, no Built to Spill, no Beck. While Nevermind marked its creators inarguable peak, Slanted and Enchanted is, by most fans’ appraisals, not Pavement’s best. Some swear by Brighten the Corners; others praise Wowie Zowie. Each album has its disciples, but S & E is the starting point, encapsulating the freshness, the intelligence, the chaos — all the potential waiting to be exploited.

This re-issue from Matador, S & E: Luxe & Reduxe, is one of those rare re-releases that proves essential even for those who own the original pressing. Aside from the fourteen tracks from the ’92 release, disc one of the set contains B-sides from the Slanted sessions and unreleased John Peel recordings. Disc two offers the true prize in this set. Now hard to find, the Watery Domestic EP is a collection of some of Malkmus’s and Spiral Stairs’ best writing and the band’s most powerful playing. It is also the final appearance on record of Gary Young. The acid-fried, off-the-wall drummer and producer left before 1993’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, resulting in that album’s mellower tone.

The second disc also compiles a live set from ’92 at the Brixton Academy in London. The performance captures the fractured, angular guitars and cryptically laconic vocals that make these early songs so incredibly fresh. Self-admittedly unskilled on their respective instruments, what exudes is pure energy and enthusiasm. This live context also reveals Pavement’s few debts. Echoes of The Fall, early R.E.M, and most notably the Pixies and Sonic Youth are evident, but channeled into such a skewed sound that any question of Pavement being at all derivative becomes moot.

Impressively, Slanted and Enchanted still sounds like it did in 1992. Pavement subverted conventional pop structures so creatively that songs like “Here,” “In the Mouth A Desert,” and “Fame Throwa” will seemingly always sound ahead of whatever time it is. And thus is Pavement’s undying influence. Malkmus’s lyrical approach, not unlike those magnetic poetry kits, has been adopted by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and others. Their elliptic melodical style still reigns in the indie rock world (think Modest Mouse, Dismemberment Plan). Even Trey Anastasio claims to be inspired by Pavement, going so far as to hire their sometime engineer, Bryce Goggin, for Phish’s last album, Farmhouse. All proof that if you don’t already own this album … I’m sorry. If you do, it’s time for a replacement.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas