Album: Slanted & Enchanted
There was a time when "indie" rock and "alternative" rock were virtually the same thing. Many (including myself) would argue that they are, in fact, the same thing and the general public simply stopped using the later term in the late 1990's. Regardless of what term one uses, it is this genre from which some of the most amazing and original music has emerged. High atop the list of innovators of this genre and style stand one of the most unparalleled bands in terms of originality and musical creativity, Pavement. In many ways, the music of Pavement is like a strange combination of R.E.M., The Fall, and Sonic Youth. The comparisons to Mark E. Smith and his band run though nearly every aspect of the bands' music, yet, if anything, they are a far more accessible, more well produced band. Pavement are the ultimate "lo-fi" band, yet they do not compromise any musical quality whilst sticking to their low-production, heavy distortion method. The band released only five full length albums during their decade of existence, yet there is not a single track on any of these records that is anything short of incredible. However, to truly experience the best the band has to offer, and to get a clear understanding of why the band is so important in the timeline of music, one needs to look no further than Pavement's magnificent 1992 debut album, Slanted & Enchanted.
In many ways, Pavement is the ultimate alternative rock band. The band has an amazing ability to completely subvert the traditional pop music structure, yet the songs somehow retain an undeniable accessibility and "catchiness." Pavement almost completely inverts the standard melodic structure, and combining this with their perfect uses of feedback and distortion, the music is truly the antithesis of traditional rock music. Whether it is the almost strangely mixed guitar solo on "Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era" or the sparse, simple, and short sound of "Chesley's Little Wrists," the bands' distinct sound is consistently superb. By simply listening to the albums' opening song, "Summer Babe (Winter Version)," one can hear where artists from Beck to Cake gained a great deal of musical influence. To further this comparison, pick up any record from Cake or Nada Surf and then listen to Pavement's "Conduit For Sale!" and you'll clearly hear where these later bands found their sound. The songs are a spectacular combination of blistering guitar and perfectly laconic, almost disjointed lyrics. The fact that all of Slanted & Enchanted is so perfect is also largely due to the fact that the band produced the album on their own, and therefore they could make the songs sound exactly how they felt they should be experienced. It is this fantastic musical fusion and unique, yet perfect production that makes the music of Pavement so amazing, and why they stand as one of the most unique and influential bands in the history of music.
The music of Pavement is a very structured, yet experimental sound, as the band uses a great deal of distortion and feedback to accentuate their music. It is though this use of distortion, as well as the points when the band does NOT use it that makes the sound of Pavement so unique. Dual guitarists and band founders, Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg play brilliantly off of one another, and the ways in which they interweave their melodies is often quite stunning. Though it is one of the most stripped down songs on the album, the double guitar lines found on "Chesley's Little Wrists" present a perfect example of how well the duo works with one another to create the bands' amazing music. Bassist Mark Ibold was added to the band shortly before the recording sessions for Slanted & Enchanted, and he would stay with the band for the remainder of their career. His playing is fantastic, and the rumor stands that he was added to the band to strengthen the sometimes shaky drumming of Gary Young. After leaving Pavement, Ibold went on to play live and then become a full fledged member of Sonic Youth. Gary Young was in many ways more notorious for his stage antics than his drumming. Though his drumming is up to par on Slanted & Enchanted, his eventual replacement, Bob Nastanovich sits in throughout the album and it one listens closely, you can tell which drummer is playing. The mellow, yet heavy sound that Pavement plays made them a critical success, and their formula and sound have been copied countless times since.
The album title itself is a reference to the famous Samuel Taylor Coolridge poem, "Kubla Kahn," and the fact that the band uses this as its inspiration is not surprising, as nearly every vocal on the album is a poetry reading itself. The comparisons between vocalist Stephen Malkmus and Mark E. Smith are completely unavoidable due to the manner in which Malkmus performs. His vocals on songs like "Two States" and "Fame Throwa" bear an uncanny resemblance, yet there are many differences that make the sound his own. As previously stated, like the music, Malkmus' vocals are far more clear and understandable, making his brilliant lyrics all the more amazing. Furthermore, the manner in which Malkmus delivers his lyrics are nothing short of captivating. The rhythm he uses, which is often different from the rhythm of the music makes the lyrics more punctuated, and the almost indifferent tone in his voice makes the vocals all the more unique. While a majority of the lyrics seem almost cryptical, one cannot get around the fact that they are simultaneously brilliant, and songs like "Trigger Cut / Wounded-Kite At :17" prove that the band has just as much angst as any of their peers. Yet the band was also capable of delivering brilliant "alternative" love songs, as can be found on the phenomenal "Here." Composing all of the lyrics and music, Stephen Malkmus is easily one of the most talented musicians of his generation, and the unorthodox way in which he delivers the lyrics pushes the songs to nothing short of spectacular.
In an era when "indie rock" has a very distinct sound across all of the bands who fall into the category, one must look back to a time when the term was used for bands that made their own, unique style of rock music. Truth be told, one can look all they wish, but there is simply no other band that so perfectly executes the lo-fi, unparalleled sound that can be found within the music of Pavement. Superbly mixing together the almost rambling and wandering lyrics of Stephen Malkmus with the blissfully chaotic, feedback laden music of the band, the music is wild, aggressive, and yet undeniably captivating. The manner in which Malkmus and Kannberg play off one another is truly exceptional, and they are masters of understanding that where the notes are can be equally as important as where the notes are not. Bringing in bassist Mark Ibold is one of the key elements that makes the bands' full length debut so much better than their singles and EP that preceded the album, and Ibold fills out the bands sound perfectly. Pavement remains one of the most highly respected and most influential bands of their generation, and their 1992 debut, Slanted & Enchanted makes the case as the most important "alternative" rock album in history as it is nothing short of a phenomenal musical masterpiece.
Standout tracks: "Summer Babe (Winter Version)," "In The Mouth Of A Desert," and "Here."