The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

“Listen To Me, I’m On The Stereo” – A Beginner’s Guide to Pavement

Slanted And Enchanted (1992)

Pavement Slanted And Enchanted

Although Pavement’s early EPs all had their clear highlights and showed a band growing in confidence and ability, their full-length debut album is by far the most complete picture of the quintet in their fleeting and gloriously chaotic infancy. Slanted And Enchanted is, quite simply, one of the most seminal and influential independent releases of all time. While Nirvana may have broken down the door for alternative rock, the subsequent evolution of American indie as the 1990s wouldn’t have happened in the same way without the impact that Pavement had. Without Slanted And Enchanted, it is hard to imagine the ‘lo-fi’ movement evolving in the same way, or the widespread turn to post-modernism and irony within the underground scene in America.

Recorded in the space of just seven days in a garage for only $800, it’s amazing how refreshingly free of convention Slanted And Enchanted is, in terms of both structure and sound. Its lo-fi, raggedy flaws and imperfections make it, weirdly, uniquely perfect. Its varied 14 tracks combined Stephen Malkmus’ laconic, “whatever” kind of attitude with a joyous love for noise and experimentation. Unorthodox but distinctively pop instincts mingled with different influences and ideas, like the mellow indie of ‘Here’ to the flamethrower of ‘Summer Babe’, sitting in thrillingly unresolved contrast to each other. The Luxe & Reduxe expanded 2xCD edition is definitely worth hunting down, containing contemporary singles and B-sides, John Peel sessions, a glut of outtakes, a live show and the Watery, Domestic EP. (10/10) (LISTEN)

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

Pavement Crooked Rain Crooked Rain

Arguably the quintessential American indie release of the Nineties and certainly one of the most influential, Pavement’s second album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a source of inspiration for so many subsequent indie groups that it almost defies belief. A classier, more clinical and professional-sounding affair than its beloved lo-fi predecessor, it retained the restless creativity of Slanted… and focussed it into more conventional structures. As such, it spoke to bored, suburban teens all over America, looking for something strange and unique to contrast with the sprawling uniformity of their surroundings. Stephen Malkmus was on the lyrical form of his life, a gifted abstract expressionist capable of striking straight at the listener’s emotions amid the strange images and metaphors. However, this time around Malkmus’ bandmates, particularly guitarist Scott Kannberg and their more stable drummer Steve West, gave his idiosyncratic style a richer melodic platform despite the shoestring budget.

The songs themselves are as infectious as anything else from the American guitar-rock decade. There’s just so much on offer: the gorgeous countrified indie ballad ‘Range Life’; the stoner-rock/grunge segue between ‘Newark Wilder’ and ‘Unfair’; the heart-stopping yearning of ‘Gold Soundz’; the loping Fall-esque shamble of ‘Hit The Plane Down’… in terms of pure songcraft and its left-field melodies and hooks, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was simply an embarrassment of riches, so far ahead of their rivals that it was almost unfair. The minor MTV success of ‘Cut Your Hair’, perhaps Pavement’s signature song and one of the finest indie singles of the decade, brought them to their biggest audience yet. (10/10) (LISTEN)

Music video for ‘Cut Your Hair’

Wowee Zowee (1995)

Pavement Wowee Zowee

Faced with the possibility of going overground in a serious way following Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and with talk of Pavement becoming the ‘next Nirvana’, Stephen Malkmus decided to press the ejector seat button on the group’s career by releasing the sprawling, spontaneous Wowee Zowee. Full of intriguing song sketches and longer, more improvisational lo-fi indie, their third album may have seemed like commercial suicide to many, but it eventually cemented their reputation as underground legends. It was different, but not directionless, and is arguably the most Pavement-y record they ever made. It may have been a mixed bag sonically, but, just like their debut album three years before, that ended up being kinda the point.

Alternating between twisted epics like ‘Grounded’ to thumbnail impressions of songs like ‘Brinx Job’, via country rock nuggets like ‘Father To A Sister Of Thought’, Wowee Zowee was not an abandonment of principles, but a dramatic expansion of them. It also acted as an assertion of identity and independence – Pavement were not going to follow a standard industry career path. After a number of listens, this bewildering collection of 18 tracks coheres into a marvellous collage of Nineties indie-rock. While none of them had any appeal for radio stations, these songs took on a life and meaning of their own. Initially unloved even by most of the band’s fans, with some accusing them of being afraid of success, it has taken the best part of a quarter of a century for Wowee Zowee to be recognised as the curious gem that it is. (9/10) (LISTEN)

Music video for ‘Rattled By The Rush’

Brighten The Corners (1997)

Pavement Brighten The Corners

With three brilliant albums of angular and inventive indie behind them by 1997, Pavement decided to play things with a relatively straight bat for their fourth effort Brighten The Corners. In Bob Nastanovich’s words, their objective was “to go into people’s rooms and brighten their corners with music”. With something approaching a cohesive sound, and certainly more focussed on Stephen Malkmus’s highly distinctive songcraft, the record seems perhaps overly accessible on the surface, maybe even innocuous given the preponderance of slower songs, but its complex, wise-assed charms reveal themselves to the listener over time. Exactly the kind of record for which phrases like ‘mature’ are bandied around, but that’s not entirely true.

Front-loaded with great singles in the stone-cold classic ‘Shady Lane’ with its winding melody, slowly unfurling lyrical gambit, and the shambling brilliance of the opener ‘Stereo’, Brighten The Corners is teeming with detail, with a career’s worth of invention and wit below its surface. The epic, sweeping grace of ‘Type Slowly’, ‘Starlings Of The Slipstream’ and ‘Fin’, and the quiet beauty of ‘Transport Is Arranged’ with its atonal duelling guitar solos are just the very finest examples of this. That’s before we even get started on Scott Kannberg’s power-pop ‘Date With IKEA’ and thoughtful ‘Passat Dream’. A precursor to the type of anthemic indie that dominated the radio-waves in the early Noughties – but several degrees better than all that, natch – Brighten The Corners is the ideal starting point for any newcomer to Pavement and Stephen Malkmus. (9/10) (LISTEN)

Music video for ‘Stereo’

Terror Twilight (1999)

Recorded with sometime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Terror Twilight turned out to be Pavement’s swansong. That an album as poised, assured and strikingly beautiful as this should be their least essential record is testament to the power and quality of their career. Where it falls down in comparison to their other Pavement albums is that, where previous efforts always did something quite drastically different to its immediate predecessor, Terror Twilight didn’t build on Brighten The Corners. Instead, it merely deepened and enriched the textures. There are very few rock freak-out moments, with the mood predominantly one of reflection giving way to the occasional daydream fantasy. ‘The Hexx’, which made its debut during the previous tour in a much harder, rockier form, is presented here as a surrealistic dreamscape.

Terror Twilight and its predecessor between them amounted to a gentler re-casting of Pavement’s signature sound, flaws and all, into something more polished and consistent. Many fans felt that they lacked the character of their earlier work – and, to be fair, they have a bit of a point – but Terror Twilight has a distinctive appeal. The gorgeous Anglophilia of the Mark Ibold-led single ‘Carrot Rope’, for example, or the gentle melancholia of tracks like ‘Spit On A Stranger’ and ‘Major Leagues’, or the jam-like ‘Platform Blues’. Godrich, renowned for reining in the excessive aspects of major artists, does the same here. The songs are immediately disarming and easily digestible, yet still dense enough with musical flourishes and Malkmus’ songwriting chops to retain a Pavement-y feel despite the lack of the kind of sprawl that fans loved about previous work. A graceful and idiosyncratic end to a remarkable discography. (8/10) (LISTEN)

Music video for ‘Carrot Rope’

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