The first time I remember hearing the name Stephen Malkmus, well, I actually read his name before I ever heard his name out loud. It was on the cover of his self-titled solo debut. I honestly thought he was just another newbie to the alt-rock scene. He’d probably be a little awkward, have one good song, and we’d see him in the obscurity lounge alongside Tal Bachman and company. I didn’t know he had been around for over a decade in a band named Pavement.
As for the band Pavement, I would hear that name in passing when people hearkened back to the days of alternative rock in the early 1990s. The band would be lumped in with groups like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, etc. I never heard them on the radio; I never saw them on MTV’s Alternative Nation. So, I confess that I had never, never, ever, heard of the album, Slanted and Enchanted. That album wouldn’t reach my iTunes library until… 2008.
Phew. I actually feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Slanted and Enchanted (with members Malkmus, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, bassist Mark Ibold, and former drummer Gary Young) is a beautiful, sloppy mess. It opens with the fuzz anthem that is “Summer Babe (Winter Version)”, accompanied by rat-tat-tat cymbals. Oh, and these words:
I saw your girlfriend and she was
Eating her fingers like they’re just another meal
But she waits there
In the levee wash she’s
Mixin’ cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar
What? Awesome. The phrases, “you’re my summer girl” or “summer babe”, have been bandied about in pop songs over the last 50 years, but I defy anyone to find the phrase delivered shortly after a line as bizarre as “Every time I sit around I find I’m shot.” Weirded out.
“Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite at :17” builds up to Malkmus singing about fruit-colored nails, as well as the uselessness of electricity and lust. Guitars slice in and out of the call-and-answer chorus, and scattered la-la-las somehow find their way into the track. “No Life Singed Her” features screams of lo-fi fury, and “In the Mouth of a Desert” has echoes of The Pixies. Influences can be heard here and there in Slanted and Enchanted, and in addition to The Pixies, there are definite signs of T-Rex in the song, “Two States”.
“Conduit for Sale!” has Malkmus trying, trying, trying, and. The spoken-word verses indicate where Nada Surf found influence for songs like “Popular”. The fuzzy “Chesley’s Little Wrists” houses xylophones and yelping (naturally). The lo-fi of “Chesley’s” is followed by the reserved, tight production of “Here”, with contemplation:
Painted portraits of minions and slaves
Crotch mavens and one act plays
Are they the only ones who laugh
At the jokes when they are so bad
And the jokes they’re always bad
But they’re not as bad as this
These are all examples of how all over the place the album is, with short songs and long songs, lo-fi and hi-fi, spoken words and singing (“Fame Throwa” even has synths after its drum lead-in). That’s what sets Slanted and Enchanted apart from other albums of the genre. It sounds like a band doing what they wanted to do, without a producer coming in and telling them what he or she wanted.