In a sense, Pavement was the ideal mixtape band: Their tracks rarely broke the five-minute barrier, and nearly every one could yield gnomic postulates for the title (or at least the subtitle). The first few records, too, looked like musical care packages, blanketed with indecipherable fragments, collaged scraps, and detourned photos. Of course, it took a lot of sweat to produce something so seemingly tossed-off.
Hardcore’s initial capital investment reaped college rock dividends, and after kicking around in a few Stockton, CA punk bands, Stephen Malkmus attended the University of Virginia, where he shared campus-DJ duties with David Berman and Yo La Tengo’s James McNew. Upon graduation, Malkmus, Berman, and future Pavement percussionist Bob Nastanovich got jobs as security guards at the Whitney. True to the insular nature of the early American underground, Malkmus and Scott Kannberg (AKA Spiral Stairs) started Pavement in Stockton back in ’89; at UVA, Malkmus started the group Ectoslavia with Berman and Nastanovich. Bored and buzzed in NYC, the three began fucking around with recording songs, eventually spawning both the Silver Jews and (with the re-introduction of Kannberg and drummer Gary Young and the addition of bassist Mark Ibold) Pavement.
Pavement upended the established dynamics of rigorous touring behind increasingly ambitious works. Their early shows were notoriously sloppy (think Guided by Voices, but not nearly as performative), and after three EPs in three years whetted the underground’s appetite, Slanted And Enchanted dropped, an instant cult classic that packed a moving truck’s worth of ideas and approaches into a stunningly assured debut.
One way to tell how unique Pavement sounded, and how delicate their compositional balance was (besides, like, listening), is to note their astounding ratio of admirers to imitators. The band bore the “slack” label gamely, but it always seemed more of a marketing concept. Pavement claimed new territory on every album, invigorating their sonic vocabulary with dips into country, classic rock, and post-punk. And while Malkmus’s famed lyrics were often the result of a casual process (sometimes happening after the track was recorded), it was still a process. Five albums, nine EPs and a slew of B-sides in a decade isn’t shabby. The Pavement sound may or may not be perfect, and it may or may not last forever, but it dovetailed with indie rock’s growing pains splendidly.
What follows is some kind of ordered reckoning that includes all Pavement’s studio albums and one EP collection. Extracurricular pursuits are not included; Free Kitten fans, find each other in the comments.