Slanted And Enchanted Turns 20

By Amrit Singh / April 20, 2012

Where were you in ’92. The music world was fascinated by “alternative rock,” which was culturally ascendent and extremely commercially viable: 120 Minutes held sway, Nirvana were a year into (and nearly drowned by) their sea change moment, and Lollapalooza was a thing that had just recently come into existence and would even come to your town if there were enough residents that regularly wore flannel. Into this environment Matador Records released a classic independent rock touchstone called Slanted And Enchanted, a record that never really rode that alternative music riptide to much, sales-wise, but absolutely shaped enough band careers and listening habits to merit recognition (and weird Dawson’s Creek namechecks) so many years after the fact. Here’s its commercial reach in context: By the time this record came out, Nevermind was selling about 400,000 copies a week; as of 2007, Slanted And Enchanted had moved 150,000. Which is to say, most acquisitions of Pavement’s classic probably came after 2007, a lot of which probably aren’t logged in any legitimate record store ledger. So then to the point: Let’s celebrate Slanted & Enchanted by talking about why it’s the youngest-feeling 20-year-old album imaginable.

There are aesthetic reasons Slanted didn’t run the alt.rock gauntlet of the ’90s. (Sartorial ones, too.) But the ways in which Stephan Malkmus’s vision was out of step with the culture around him are the same that make this record perennially “relevant.” It is, after all, the archetypal lo-fi indie sound personified: While grunge bands were riding their polished stomp boxes and high-end studios to premium Tower Records display cases, Pavement reveled in a smeary wash across the EQ spectrum: Scott Kannberg’s bass up front, Malkmus’s guitars dialed into some alchemically shitty/perfect distortion, and Gary Young’s rickety drums punching in and keeping time, sorta. These sound styles became the go-to indie blueprint, and the many subsequent facsimiles never really lined up right.

And while the alternative rock of its day prized a direct, occasionally overwrought emotional earnestness that’s rarely aged well, Malkmus’s speak-style melodies, cadences, and lyrics — registering somewhere between sardonic, post-ironic wit and indecipherable, oblique absurdisms — fostered an “above-it-all” stance, even while it’d be more accurate to think of them as “beside-it-all,” given their relationship with (and aesthetic response to) the mainstream. But that detached yet highly attuned disposition presaged this very era of post-ironic posturing, which has made it an album that resonates well in this time while being ahead of its own. The song “Summer Babe [Winter Version]” is a great illustration for all of this, and the song title’s a paradox for an album that is one writ large: Slacker posed, yet totally dialed in. Off-kilter, and weirdly focused. Slanted and enchanted. Not straight. Charmed. Listen to some here, and celebrate:

“Summer Babe [Winter Version]”

“Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17″

“In The Mouth A Desert”

“Zürich Is Stained”

“Loretta’s Scars”

“Two States”