Muser of Politics, Film, and Music

Long posts from a culture junkie

"Here's how my brain works: it's stupidity, followed by self-hatred, and then further analysis."---Louis C.K.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was 1992: Nirvana were passing out on magazine covers all over the world. Spin, the suburban town crier, passed to stranded youth the biggest news from a scene still directed in secret, in cities, by fanzines made on hijacked photocopiers. I was 16, learning to play drums in a basement band, everyday after school, and thanks to Spin’s sidebar annotation discovered a record that sounded almost as bad as the 4-track recordings we were making. Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted” was a bridge between the sounds I dreamt of and those I was capable of making. It was as instructive as it was inspirational.

For music as cocky, atrocious and clever as Pavement’s to have come from the amorphous, always dying world of American indie rock was really surprising, specifically the SUCK!-sess of their 10” EP “Perfect Sound Forever.” Vinyl was just beginning the resurgence it would enjoy for the remainder of the decade; record store clerks and college DJ’s marveled that a 10” could be produced in 1991. Clothed in its obscure, messy (yes, FALL) sleeve, the EP sold out, prompting Spin to write it up alongside the pre-release cassette of “Slanted and Enchanted” that had everyone buzzing during the summer of 1991.

Nirvana were recording “Nevermind.” I was listening to the major-label debuts of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and the Lemonheads to the Blake Babies’ “Sunburn” and the Pixies’ “Doolittle.” All of them had been featured on MTV’s “120 Minutes.” The Cure had gone to #3 in the U.S. with “Lovesong.” Formerly independent UK bands like Ride, The Stone Roses, and My Bloody Valentine were available in suburban malls. Pop music was overripe with new ideas. Something had to give.

It was obvious, and it was sort of a bummer. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” appeared on promotional compilations tapes throughout the summer of 1991, and we blasted it in our parents cars’ with glee. By the fall, kids were playing “Nevermind” and “Metallica” back to back at parties, and they pretty much flowed together. Nirvana loved music—truly, madly, deeply—but they had no allure, no mystery. They were Buffalo Tom to Jesus Lizard’s Dinosaur Jr., and their great rock music appealed to as many jocks as it did outcasts. I didn’t want to drink with those meatheads. I drank before school. There had to be a soundtrack for this.

The guitarist I was playing with went off to college in New York City and in September 1992 sent me a 90-minute cassette that changed everything. The first side contained songs by Slint, Pere Ubu, and the Minutemen. The second side was “Slanted and Enchanted.” I hadn’t been able to get Pavement’s album at the mall, and the two times I’d gone record shopping in Boston, Newbury Comics didn’t have the record in stock—it had sold out. I’d been waiting to hear Pavement for almost five months since the adoration appeared in Spin.

The dead, thudding drums and walkie-talkie guitar production sounded like our garages, our basements, and high school auditoriums: the secret reason “Slanted and Enchanted” rises above its sonic limitations is the bass lines. Though they only on feature on about half the songs, it’s one of the few modern pop recordings to use the instrument as it was intended: as the foundation of the song. The guitars are mixed either hard L to R or mono; in all cases, the treble is kicked to the limit. Remastering for this edition adds some noticeable punch to the drum kit, but thankfully preserves the rest of the original sound, clarifying the tracks without isolating them in the mix. You think it’s easy, but you’re wrong.

The 14 classic “Slanted and Enchanted” tracks are here, from the hazy, lazy pop of “Summer Babe,” its bass line like Mike Watt in slow-motion, to the late-night, recorded-direct poetry of “Our Singer.” There’s the CCR/R.E.M. hybrid “Zurich is Stained,” the superb pre-Polvo guitar and chorus of “Perfume-V,” and of course, indie rock’s very own “Every Breath You Take”: “Here” (Track 9 for those of us that put it on every mix tape).

In retrospect, it seems “Slanted and Enchanted” fortified and refocused the tired, exploited underground reeling from Nirvana’s co-option. It showed us that regardless of the suits and ties invading our world, there was plenty of room to operate beneath the mainstream radar, and moreover, there was plenty of new music to be made. It reminded us that Sebadoh were still out there, fighting the late-80’s and early-90’s; critics should kiss the band’s ass for the variety of ways Pavement have allowed them to pontificate.

We all seem to have forgotten the buzzword “slacker” (and here’s to that), but let’s stop here and take a moment to reflect on its short-lived potency in the early-90’s, when a vast majority of Pavement’s press crowned them kings of the shrugging-to-be-clever set. As late as 1994, the cover of Spin magazine read:

PAVEMENT: YOUNG, GIFTED, AND SLACK

—-Chris Ott, Pitchfork review of Slanted and Enchanted.

This captures everything I love about Pavement and Slanted even though I was a generation and a half behind and have never played in a band, everything I identified with in the music I was listening to in high school, everything I love about that seemingly indescribable feeling of discovering new music, and everything I wanted to fight against that no longer existed in the 00’s.

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