Often imitated, but never replicated, the legendary band's debut album is a defining touchstone in indie rock.
In 1990, two childhood friends named Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg met up with a recording studio owner named Gary Young and decided to make an album.
They called themselves Pavement and called their album Slanted and Enchanted; its title came from a drawing by Malkmus' then-roommate (and Silver Jews frontman) David Berman, and its cover art was nearly a carbon copy of piano duo Ferrante & Teicher's Keyboard Kapers. Kannberg spent the following months trying to find a label to release the record. Somehow, against all odds, Slanted and Enchanted—officially released on April 20, 1992—would end up becoming one of indie rock's most definitive and beloved albums of all time.
As adored and iconic as it is, Slanted and Enchanted is a bit of a diamond in the rough. Noisy and lo-fi, it came to symbolize "slacker rock" as we know it today. The band recognizes its unpolished production, but the album ultimately sounds effortless and homespun. The casualness makes it all the more impressive, then, that Slanted and Enchanted boasts some of the best rock music songwriting of the 1990s. Bits of Malkmus' studio banter slip through, too, giving the record a more personal charm. These were just three guys from California who, however inadvertently, became something much bigger than themselves.
Pavement - In The Mouth A Desert (Remastered) www.youtube.com
After whipping up Slanted and Enchanted, vocalist Malkmus and guitarist Kannberg left California and relocated to New York City. Things slowly but surely started taking off: The album was beginning to garner favorable write-ups in fan zines, and Spin gave the record a glowing review before anyone could even listen to it. So, Malkmus and Kannberg decided it'd be a good idea to learn how to play together live. With Bob Nastanovich now on drums, the trio played their first official gig at the Pyramid Club in the East Village. It was a self-described sloppy set powered by a few too many beers, but it still caught the attention of Matador, the revered indie label that has since boasted the likes of Spoon, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and Interpol. They inked a deal and landed a supporting slot for shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine. Malkmus, Kannberg, and Nastanovich were still new to this whole "being in a band'' thing, but Pavement accidentally became legends.
Opening track and lead single "Summer Babe" began Pavement's career-spanning trend of starting their albums with catchy, upbeat songs. Bright and fuzzy, "Summer Babe" depicts Malkmus' crush on a girl whose current relationship is withering away; nevertheless, she's beyond his reach. On much of Slanted and Enchanted, Malkmus acts as a sort of passive everyman; "I was dressed for success / But success, it never comes," he laments on "Here," a bittersweet notion in the context of the record's history. But where the album truly shines is in its melodies, from the soaring, open-road hooks of "In the Mouth a Desert" and "Perfume-V" to the jangly refrains of "Zurich is Stained" and "Loretta's Scars." With a single album, Pavement—particularly Malkmus, who wrote all but one song alone—went from virtual nobodies to renowned musical geniuses. "Its flaws are a big part of what makes it good," Malkmus told GQ in 2010. "I think Slanted and Enchanted probably is the best record we made, only because it's less self-conscious and has an unrepeatable energy about it."
Critics often agree that Slanted and Enchanted is the superior Pavement record, with Pitchfork, Spin, and Slant Magazine all regarding it as one of the best albums of the '90s. Rolling Stone went so far as to include it in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, calling it "the quintessential American indie-rock album."
But at the time, Slanted and Enchanted was rock's best-kept secret, and it didn't reach the U.S. charts until Matador's deluxe reissue ten years later.
Pavement's closest brush with mainstream status came in 1994 with "Cut Your Hair," a single from their sophomore album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Its quirky, barber shop-themed music video snuck its way onto MTV, generating moderate success for the record and making "Cut Your Hair" Pavement's biggest "hit" to date. But with the following year's divisive Wowee Zowee, the band's sound got weirder and less accessible, causing them to slip back into the underground. Critics hated Wowee Zowee, but it couldn't keep devoted fans away.
Pavement - Here (Remastered) www.youtube.com
Slanted and Enchanted didn't become a mega-hit like Nirvana's In Utero or Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, although it's certainly good enough to join the mix. Pavement disbanded in 1999, and it'd be impossible to list all the artists their music has touched in the 28 years since their debut. Their influence can be heard in the sounds of early Modest Mouse, (Sandy) Alex G, and Wolf Parade, and their fierce cult following has reached younger generations: U.K. band Los Campesinos! covered Slanted and Enchanted B-side "Frontwards" on their debut EP. Will Toledo, the 27-year-old musician better known as Car Seat Headrest, shouts out "Cut Your Hair" on his track "Not What I Needed." Indie poppers Hippo Campus reference Pavement on their debut album, Landmark, whose cover is a drawing of a living room with a copy of Slanted and Enchanted on the floor. Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail has repeatedly cited Pavement as a major inspiration, despite being born the year they broke up. And 19-year-old beabadoobee said it best when she released a song called "I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus"—sure enough, she ended up getting to hang with the man himself.
beabadoobee finally met stephen malkmus RT for good luck https://t.co/EIQUctbQuE— Pigeons & Planes (@Pigeons & Planes) 1570822757.0
Pavement were never the biggest rock band of the '90s, but they inarguably remain one of the greatest, and their dark-horse status has only amplified their appeal. Nearly three decades later, it's gutting to listen to "Here," as Malkmus sings: "Everything's ending here." Little did he know he was starting a revolution.
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