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Don't Expect

 

Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe

Matador, 1992/2002

Rating: 5.0

 

 

Posted: October 27, 2002

By Laurence Station

Slanted & Enchanted is a subversive assault upon bland white suburbia. Behind the hiss and static, the emaciated guitar overdubs and flatly delivered abstract lyrical interplay lurks the reaction of reasonably well off, college-educated middle-class youths against the stifling crush of dull American modernity. Whereas in the 1970s kids in Britain rebelled against the failure of the post-World War II government to adequately provide them with jobs and opportunities, leaving only rusted industrial husks in their wake, and punk rockers across the pond in New York City sought to destroy all that bloated corporate rock stood for, the guys in Pavement (Stockton, California-reared, founding members Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, or S.M. and Spiral Stairs on early releases) -- both of whom grew up on the angry punk of the '70s and the subsequent New Wave dance music it mutated into during the early '80s -- discovered their only form of rebellion came against the one thing they had worth rebelling against: Boredom. Slanted & Enchanted is the great anti-boredom album to come out of the Generation X-worldview of the '90s.

What makes Slanted a classic, however, is the surprising manner in which Malkmus and Kannberg managed to shamelessly rip off their influences (The Fall, Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Pixies, et al.), be it from stray guitar riffs to laconic vocal delivery, and wholly make their own sound from the bastardized parts of music they so clearly sought to emulate. The primary reasons for this came from lead singer Malkmus' left-field lyrics, all brilliantly cascading non sequiturs ("Lies and betrayals / Fruit-covered nails / Electricity and lust") and cheeky metaphysical musings ("Can you treat it like an oil well / When it's underground, out of sight?") and Kannberg's creative production work as the two pieced together their sonic creations during the winter of 1990-91. Ten years later, Slanted sturdily holds up, and thanks to a newly remastered reissue, which offers an embarrassment of rare and unreleased riches, the definitive document of stridently DIY '90s indie rock gets the chance to stun a whole new (and most likely unsuspecting) audience.

The sound remains patchy in spots and the drumming (courtesy of Gary Young, who owned the studio in which the album was recorded) too muted, but Slanted's catchy melodicism still stands out. The distinctive guitar work on "Summer Babe" is possessed of a crisp buzz-saw intensity, while the double-shot noise blasts of punk efforts "Chesley's Little Wrists" and "Loretta's Scars" are deliberately cacophonous yet still imbued with an accessible pop sensibility. No matter how hard it tried to be difficult and experimental, the harmonies were simply too well-crafted to be dismissed as avant-punk screech-fests: Just listen to the insistently hummable chorus of the reactive "Perfume-V" or the percussive "Two States," which turns the nonsensical chant "Forty million daggers" into a stirring call to arms for a nation of listless, apathetic college radio listeners.

The bonus material on Luxe & Reduxe, while not as essential to the avid collector who will doubtless already own bootlegs containing non-album tracks, is still quite impressive: Songs caught live at a Brixton Academy show prove to be the highlight, as Pavement deconstructs and re-interprets the material with spontaneous -- although often unintentionally sloppy -- results.

Slanted merits a reissue because Pavement, though never by any stretch a mainstream band, greatly influenced the sound of indie rock during the last decade. And that legacy has inarguably had a more far-reaching and undeniably authentic impact than that of, say, Nirvana, which has been diluted over the past decade into the watery treacle of "modern rock" or "new rock" radio. Unlike the short-lived and unfortunately titled "grunge" movement, Pavement was never part of a fad; it simply began as a creative outlet for two restless twentysomethings looking to kill time in the suburban wasteland of their peers, an outlet that sure beat the hell out of getting McJobs and leading perfunctory, joyless McLives. At the end of "Shoot The Singer (1 Sick Verse)," from the included Watery, Domestic EP, Malkmus repeatedly urges "Don't expect," which could easily stand as Pavement's mantra: No false expectations, just musically gratifying end results.

 
I'm Tryin', I'm Tryin'...
After considerable delay, the aptly-named Slow Century DVD has finally been released in conjunction with the Slanted & Enchanted reissue. A boon for both diehard fans and the merely curious, Slow Century contains a documentary tracing the group's ten-year history, all their (mostly) bad music videos, and a pair of live concerts from the band's final tour, for 1999's swan song Terror Twilight.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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