Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted

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”

Comments (75)
  1. Even the b-sides/additional session recordings from this album are extraordinary. If you have not checked it out, I highly recommend listening to Circa 1762.

    • All the Pavement reissues are super well-done and worth getting even if you already have the albums. Slanted’s deluxe edition has Ed Ames, which I also love, and also the whole Watery, Domestic EP and unreleased songs from those sessions too, including Greenlander.

      • The good part is that Pavement made them practically box sets at a super affordable price. By then, I think SM knew no one was going to buy his music at full price anyhow, so he might as well adopt a kind of “very affordable boutique” pricing model and try to pay off as much of the debt that he still at least nominally must owe to Capitol.

  2. Best album of the 90′s hands down, none of the others even come close.

  3. Prettay, Prettay, Prettay, Prettay good.

  4. This record got me into indie rock

  5. This album always reminds me of my summers as a kid, I was a lot happier then, so when I listen to it I tend to go back to that joyful feeling of youth, and I love it for that.

  6. First, I can’t think of many bands that have as solid a catalog as Pavement. To be fair, I am a Malkmus partisan and love this band and almost everything else the man has produced over most other things classifiable as music. However, I’ve often wondered if Slanted gets elevated to the “best Pavement album” status (in many people’s estimation) solely because it was a historically “meaningful” album. Most reviews or retrospectives of Slanted usually go with “the moment” first and the music second. This is a trend that happens with a lot of albums, but I can’t help but feel that this colors how observers assess the rest of a given band’s catalog. Then again, I’m strongly in the Wowee Zowee camp, so maybe I’m just sensitive to S & E (and to a lesser extent, Crooked Rain) stealing its thunder. Having said that, I still love this album and it deserves every bit of love its been given. Still, the question of how sentimentality clouds our assessments of art, history, or anything else really, is a tendency that is a bit troubling.

    • See, as wonderful of a moment that “Slanted and Enchanted” captured, it really is the music that makes it so special. There is a reason that they are able to post the first half of the album on here, and it not seem unnecessary. While there is a sense captured listening to a song like “In the Mouth of the Desert or “Perfume-V” along of the lines of ‘Wow, I can’t believe no one ever did this before’, it’s second to the thought of “Holy fuck, these songs are incredible!”

    • I’m a Wowee Zowee guy myself (“Kennel District” is flawless, no questions asked), but I definitely understand your statement about sentimentality. I love S&E, and I first listened to the album in 2008. Would I consider it the defining record of the 1990s? Being able to assess all the music from that decade without any sort of nostalgic connection, I can say without a doubt that I would not.

    • I can’t really speak to the ‘moment’ either, but having read about it in books like Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mixtape, it seems like that would definitely lend itself to people thinking it is their best record. But as someone who never listened to Pavement until 2007, my favorite album of theirs (aka the one I think is ‘the best’) is probably Brighten the Corners.

      The concept of ‘the moment’ is very interesting especially since I can’t think of something like that that’s happened in music since, like, 2001, maybe?

  7. The 60′s = The Beatles
    The 70′s = The Clash
    The 80′s = The Smiths
    The 90′s = Pavement

    • Oh, The Smiths beat out R.E.M. and The Cure did they?

    • 60′s = Velvet Underground
      70′s = Talking Heads
      80′s = Sonic Youth
      90′s = Pavement

      • crabtron  |   Posted on Apr 21st, 2012 +2

        80′s = New Order
        90′s = Bjork
        00′s = Radiohead

        I know fairly little of 60′s and 70′s music, so I figured I wouldn’t even bother with those. I’m probably gonna get torn to shreds on the others as it is.

        • Not as much as if you incur the wrath of the Radiohead faithful like I did.

          • crabtron  |   Posted on Apr 22nd, 2012 +1

            True. But at least you didn’t do that in an “OK Computer Turns 20″ thread. I was really asking for it by expressing my dislike of Pavement in their own celebratory thread. That’s like going to someone’s birthday party just to tell them you hate them, then eating half the cake and leaving without giving them a present.

          • I know, when I did that it was a DISASTER.

      • Velvet Underground? Not The Beatles. Not The Beach Boys. Not The Rolling Stones. Not Bob Dylan. You really are hip aren’t you?

        • I very nearly included The Beach Boys, but in the end they only released one classic 60′s album. Not the biggest Rolling Stones fan in the world and I was going for bands, which excluded Bob Dylan ( who would probably win if you combined the 60′s and 70′s). The Beatles were fantastic, but slightly overrated and come 3rd in terms of 60′s bands IMO.

      • Good choice though you have to labor to fit two of the groups into more their “decades of origin” than I’d like to see, e.g., Talking Heads did most of their major work (and were doing new things each album, etc.) in the 1980s, while SY was still innovating and stomping the shit out of most the 90 groups mentioned in this thread (“Your table is ready, Mister RadioSpud”). In the case of Pavement, if they were the best the 90s had, you have to go back to the 60s, toss the tired ol’ VU, and go with some more obscure crank like Captain Beefheart. ;-) Seriously, though, excellent choices as long as the topic is only “White male rock.”

        • I know, but given that my list of favourite bands of all time goes Talking Heads -> Pavement -> SY I had to find a way to fit them all in. I’d be more comfortable doing 60′s, 60′s/70′s, 70′s etc. Also, while I’m clearly a fan of white male rock there’s also the fact they’ve historically been more consistently great than say, Hip-Hop groups/artists, ATCQ and the Beastie Boys possibly excluded.

    • You spelt Nirvana wrong.

  8. The first sentence needs a question mark.

  9. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  10. objectively and subjectively OK Computer was the best album of the 90s, everyone knows that

  11. I’m saddened by how few comments the Check Your Head post has compared to this one. I never “got” Pavement. Loved indie, alternative, college whatever rock, just never got Pavement. They don’t even seem interested in their own songs, and they’re the ones playing them.

    • I don’t think that there is much conversation that can result from the Beasties (argument might be a better word). There is no one really knocking the Beastie Boys. I’m not a huge fan of theirs, but listening to the albums as documents next to other albums of their era, they are just singular and ahead of the curve.

      Pavement generates conversation because they are not really objectively great. Reissues of albums are a nice opportunity to argue about whether or not a band is relevant. In hindsight, Pavement are so evidently a product of their era that I don’t really consider the albums having held up very well.

  12. I’m not a huge Pavement fan, but someone brought up best of the 90s, THAT is a big argument cuz there were SO many great albums. BUT for me i’d go
    1) OKComputer
    2) Grace (jeff buckley)
    3) In Utero
    4) The Downward Spiral
    5) Melon Collie
    6) Use Your Illusion (1&2)
    7) Nevermind
    8) The Bends
    9) Version 2.0 (garbage? yep)
    10) Urban Hymns

    10 is really a 10 way tie…This is Hardcore (pulp), Blur (s/t), Siamese Dream, The Golden Age (cracker), Blue Album, Mellow Gold, Morning Glory, Dirt (alice in chains) Superunknown (s’garden) ….on n on n on, you really need a top 50 of the 90s, i mean there’s not even room for Afghan Whigs?! Frank Black!…

    • …the colour and the shape

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • you havn’t even heard 80% of those albums have you. and i already qualified it with the fact there are TONS of great 90s albums to choose from. You wanna put The Shape of Punk to Come in there, do it, you wanna re-listen to In Utero and tell me its not pure rock punk genius? And you’ve clearly never seen Jeff Buckley live in Chicago, best guitarist AND singer combined you’ve ever heard in your life. His melodic shit, very similar to Johnny Marr, is 20x more difficult to play than Metallica or Van Halen’s baddest ass riffage.

      • Talking shit about Jeff Buckley instantly loses you all your credibility.

  13. As a big fan of Pavement and a big fan of alot of different kinds of music, some of which are very, very different from Pavement, I can’t help but wonder:

    if they were technically proficient at playing and recording their instruments and singing, but everything else was basically the same – the lyrics, the composition, etc. – would they be as acclaimed as they are? I’m not arguing one way or the other but it’s interesting to think about. The slacker-but-sharp delivery was certainly due to the lyrical content and the messiness of the playing was a big part of it…but take Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy; they both pull of the spazzy-but-tasteful playing well and also do plenty of accurate and tight playing. Jeff can scream and also sing like a bird (although of course, some people just dont dig his voice). If SM actually didn’t have intonation issues (in addition to the guitars’ intonation issues) while singing and the band was tighter from the start, and the recordings were engineered a bit better, would people care as much?

    • In the end, Beavis and Butthead probably were dead on when they pointed out on multiple occasions just how God awful Pavement were. I still love the group and their music but Mike Judge is usually correct when it’s clear he’s not ironic. Certainly B&B’s love of 70s disco- the best of which is much better music than Pavement’s- was sincere, so I tend to think Judge wasn’t picking on Pavement to show up the intelligence of his characters. I wonder if Judge WAS mocking the intelligence of a certain segment of B&B;s 90s audience, though… ;-)

    • i’m going to say no. if the band was good at their instruments and singing, they wouldn’t be as cool as people think they are now. i guess it’s kind of a rooting for the underdog kind of thing. or because the people that identify with them arent good at playing instruments. or those reasons and more.
      it’s like they’re popular for not being able to execute what they wanted to. with the exception for the lyrics, although at times come off very forced.

    • I don’t know, if you actually pay attention Malkmus’ guitar playing is pretty stunning.

  14. A truly great album, though SM’s preciousness really undercuts remembering the songs without hearing them. You’d have to be a real dipshit to ever know one Pavement song from the other based solely on the song title.
    Then there are the really great songs they had, like “Zurich is Stained” and “Range Life”. I wonder why Steve didn’t stay true to his character and call them “Extraordinary Twisting Booger Eating Jam Number Thirty-One” and “Skate Punks Drool, RazzMaTazz Rool, Suck Up Their Slobber Now, You Mofo!” He really missed the boat with those two, imo.

  15. I didn’t like it. Tuneless.

  16. I think that one’s appreciation of Pavement is really dependent upon his age during the early 90′s. Coming to Pavement later (after the fact) makes one less able to appreciate their contributions to the era. If you were old enough to have lived through the 80′s in adulthood, I’ll bet Pavement seemed a little more relevant.

    I’m a Pavement fan who spent his teenaged years in the 90′s. Crooked Rain, to me, is a better album. At the time, Pavement seemed a bit more important than hindsight has rendered them. Good, not great band. For all the listers above, though the 90′s has been the most disappointing decade for music in American history since the 1880′s, there is still enough great music that no Pavement album is even in the top ten (no knock on Pavement). With Nirvana & Pearl Jam being fairly similar in scope, there is no chance of getting Pavement in as a genre argument. None of their albums were terribly strong compared to the really great work of the 90′s. If your list doesn’t include something from NMH, Wu Tang, and either Built to Spill or Modest Mouse, then I don’t want to hear about how great Pavement was.

    Re: decades lists. If your 60′s band wasn’t The Beatles, then your list is fucked. I don’t even like The Beatles that much, but I have to admit influence when it’s due.

    • As someone whose first album they ever bought was the Third Eye Blind self-titled or some shit, I 100% agree with absolutely everything said in this comment

  17. “though the 90′s has been the most disappointing decade for music in American history since the 1880′s”

    “None of their albums were terribly strong compared to the really great work of the 90′s”

    wait…so you thought the ’90s sucked or no?

    • sorry, meant to reply to eldave

      • Maybe I should explain a bit more. Most music from the US in the 90′s sounds very much couched within that time period. My POV probably has to do with having been a teenager in the 90′s, but a lot of the sound seems disposable. It is almost an insult to say that a band sounds like something from “the 90′s”. I can’t think of any other decade that carries the same stigma.There are very few “timeless” albums from the period (this is not to say that there are none). Perhaps people in a decade or two will be reaching back to the 90′s the way that bands currently reach back to previous decades for influence/inspiration. For me, the 90′s stole all of the sentiment of punk (anger, energy, passionate calls for resistance) and replaced them with the kind of vapid sarcasm that defines young people now.

    • crabtron  |   Posted on Apr 25th, 2012 +1

      I think he meant to convey that although the 90′s were generally a disappointing decade for American music, there were still some great albums that came out, and those albums rate higher than Pavement’s.

      I was about to argue that a lot of great electronic stuff came out in the 90′s, but then I realized that much of that stuff was not American (Bjork, Massive Attack, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Autechre, Portishead. Shit, even great rock bands like My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead are from across the proverbial pond. I guess there really wasn’t a lot of great American music released then.).

  18. Shit… Internet comments:

    1% = Fuck yeah!
    4% = Yeah, okay.
    95% = What a fucktard.

    This thread is no different.

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