18 Oct ‘90s Alt. Rock Countdown: Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement
Key Tracks: Summer Babe [Winter Version], Trigger Cut, In the Mouth a Desert
Hailed by many critics as the best band of the 1990s, you may be surprised to learn that you’ve never even heard of them. Peripheral to the gathering ranks of Grunge musicians, far removed from the dance-pop enthusiasts and the Britpop counter-culture, a lesser-known band named Pavement was shaping its legacy as the very embodiment of ‘90s Indie Rock.
Shying away from the mainstream and contented by an underground cult status, Pavement were in many respects the antithesis of the predominating acts of the time. Exhibitory of the amalgamation of garage rock, post-punk, and noise pop that have loosely come to constitute Indie Rock, the band’s music infused these influences with their own experimental blend of irregular rhythms, distinctive vocals, and lo-fi sound. With their project having evolved from a recording exercise into a full-blown album, the outcome of Pavement’s experiment was multi-layered collage of distorted minimalist mess. Slanted and Enchanted had been born.
Despite the seemingly technical nature of the band’s approach, it is in fact the raw simplicity of Slanted and Enchanted that makes it such a refreshing album. Though the record’s ragged and unpolished character requires some adjusting, its songs are in essence catchy pop melodies disguised by idiosyncratic sound and blurred by a conscious under production in the studio. Accompanied by surrealist, contemplative lyrics, the album subsequently takes shape as a hazy collection of eclectic brilliance.
Perhaps the standout track off the album is its opening song, Summer Babe [Winter Version], a prior single that had been reworked for the band’s first full-scale release. Riding on waves of distorted guitars, spurred on by energetic drums, and offset by an understated baseline, Summer Babe is an early signifier of the album’s diverse mix of brusque Indie-influenced sounds. Sung in a generally low-key style but building towards a powerful vocal climax, the track appears to describe a wistful recollection; a nostalgic reflection on the dumbfounding impression left by a radiant woman, by the poolside, in the midst of high summer.
In another significant track, the inscrutable Trigger Cut, lead singer Stephen Malkmus produces a tenderer vocal to supplement an uncomplicated and more accessible melody-driven tune. Retaining the fuzzy lo-fi guitar sound, the track also incorporates a series of not out of place “Sha-la-la-la-la-la” refrains, a clear influence of a distinctly Indie brand of Pop, which adds plenty of appeal to the song without simultaneously retracting from its offbeat character.
Pavement’s full repertoire of genre-bending modes is perhaps best exemplified by Slanted and Enchanted’s fourth track – In the Mouth a Desert. Seemingly exploring the tense unspoken unravelling of a relationship, the song begins with an inventive guitar’s chime as it steadily gathers pace before breaking into an explosion of edgy feedback. Accompanied by an understated vocal paired with a set of characteristically opaque lyrics, the song builds towards the blaze of a highly charged, invigorating chorus, followed by a Pop-influenced bridge in mimicry of the distinctive guitar’s jangle. It is a track that resists the very fabric of ordinary, remaining slanted, and enchanted.