Thursday, September 29, 2016

1992 - Slanted and Enchanted

By the 90s, no longer hip, older, more comfortable in an armchair than a rave, I was characteristically out of step with the times and merely stumbled onto the Pavement. My first exposure, two years after its release, was their second album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. With its crazy pop hooks and crunchy guitars, off kilter and rough, I wondered what their debut could possibly offer. First listen could have been the last, but I knew better. Same guitars, same hooks but what was with the beat poetry recitals and the sloppy rhythm and the low-fi - and the critics gushing over how revolutionary it was, heightening my sense of frustration. What was so special about Slanted and Enchanted that had everybody's tongue wagging except mine? How does "lo-fi" become a loving moniker rather than a condescending and derogatory term? 

Finally, old and battered, but not too old to remember, I got it; the idea that though a smooth alabaster surface feels nice against your fingers, a rocky cliff is infinitely more interesting. Songwriting is key on this album; all the songs have spiraling melodies and poetry as good as indie rock delivers, rough and fuzzy or hazy, as they drift in and out of the ether of static noise with a clinical edge barren since punk. This is music one felt almost tangibly. While Aphex Twin offered up the ambient alternative, here was ambient punk; a turbulent emotional voyage - despair, melancholy, yearning, frustration - all delivered with a tone of dreamy hopefulness rather than punky anger and aggression. It goes upbeat to downbeat, acoustic to noise in the space of a sigh. What's left is discordance, atonality, and uncut beauty that leaves you dizzy.

Fronted by lead vocalist Stephen Malkmus and guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg, Pavement’s music was an amalgamation of 80s indie bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. So why is it that Pavement has but a cult following while Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were viewed as critical and popular darlings? Simply put, Malkmus and Kannberg didn't crave the spotlight and did a far better job shunning success than Vedder & Co. Pavement, instead, was the band that made geeks cool, but more than that, was a paradigm shift, and although that distinction could be given as well to Sonic Youth or Hüsker Dü, it was Pavement that erased the pretense. Here was a garage band playing in a garage, the drums louder than they should be, the vocals muffled by the bass. On any given day I might take an alternate stance – that Pavement is bullshit, but I go back again when I feel dirty or geeky or like an asshole. Slanted and Enchanted is the soundtrack to feeling awkward.