Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted (LP, 1992)/Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe (2xCD, 2002)

I bought Slanted and Enchanted for my girlfriend in high school. I kept reading in Spin about how great it was, and it sounded like something she would like. Of course, being the selfish and broke teen that I was, I also wanted to hear it myself and this was my roundabout way of getting that done. Man, I was an idiot.

I remember her putting the CD in her little boom box in her bedroom, and when "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" chortled forth, it wasn't what I had expected it to be at all. Lo-fi, rattly, vocals sung-spoke and halfway buried - I didn't get it. And being the finicky 16-year-old that I was, I never really took the time to let it sink in. There was so much other music at the time that gripped me right out of the box, and I think it was easier to just remain in that comfort zone.

I'd hear Pavement here and there for the next handful of years. I remember a friend having a CD copy of the "Trigger Cut" single, and I liked that song. And "Cut Your Hair" ended up being around. I bought a copy of Wowee Zowee on double vinyl (though there were only three sides) in 1997, and it all began to make sense. Turns out I couldn't have picked a more tough-to-crack album to really dig into (I equate this with buying Fugazi's Steady Diet of Nothing before hearing any of their other stuff - which I did), as it still remains the one Pavement record that people insist on referring to as "challenging." But songs like "We Dance" and "Rattled By the Rush" got to me, and became go-to mix tape tracks for me that year.

It wasn't until I moved to Portland in 1998 that I decided to give Slanted and Enchanted another go. I moved in with a guy who had a lot of records I didn't, and I used to tape some of his LPs to listen to in my car during my half-hour drive to work. It was during this time that I made a tape that literally has not left my car since the day I recorded it. On side A: Elliott Smith's XO. On side B: Slanted and Enchanted and the 12" for "Gold Soundz," a song from Pavement's second record. I played this tape over and over, both sides, for years. I'll tell you of my obsession with XO when we get there, but the story here is this: I finally realized why everyone was so infatuated with Slanted and Enchanted.

Talking about the most important indie rock records of the 90's is a fairly stupid conversation to have, but if you're going to have it, you're going to need to remember that the Pixies' Doolittle came out in the 80's, Nirvana probably doesn't count as indie rock, and if you want to act like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is more significant - or better - than Slanted and Enchanted, than you're an idiot. Slanted and Enchanted remains the record that a million bands have tried to remake, and all of them have failed. But you can't blame them for trying. Pavement's (and particularly Stephen Malkmus') strength has always been their ability to make the complex look simple.

S&E will always be labeled as slack-rock, and indeed, the album gives off the vibe - in parts - that this is just something to do. It probably doesn't help that the drummer (bless you, Gary Young) seems to be the only one who knows how to play his instrument. But, again, that's the beauty of it. The sounds wrenched from the guitars on this record may not be easily duplicated (made-up chords and fucked tunings), but they are methodical in their own way. And while Malkmus' lyrics seem like they're off the top of his dome (and there do exist tales of him changing lyrics from take-to-take in the studio), they always begin memorably and resolve themselves in a fashion that's too damn bright to be off-the-cuff.

The original Slanted and Enchanted is 14 tracks, clocks in at under 40 minutes, and is just as good as everyone tells you it is. "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" remains one of the band's definitive tunes, and the fact that it's the first song on their first full-length is just too perfect. That one represents the wall-of-guitar approach, but it's the melodies that are slipped in all over the place that make it so great. And there's a bunch of songs like that on here: "Loretta's Scars," "No Life Singed Her," and "Fame Throwa" are all great examples.

But it's the more restrained tracks like "Here" and "Zurich is Stained" (my personal favorite) that make the album much more than just wrangled guitars, trebly drums, and deceptively catchy melodies. And super-sweet cuts like "Perfume-V" get the best of both. Eh, I love every song on this record. I don't need to end up naming all of 'em. So, yes, one of my favorite albums ever. That's a long list, and it includes more than one Pavement record, but man, I never get tired of this one.

This was the first Pavement album to get the deluxe edition treatment, and they did it right. On Luxe & Reduxe, the original LP gets a remaster, and they include a ton of cool shit. There's the original 7" version of "Summer Babe," (titled "Summer Baby") along with the b-sides from that single and a few other random tracks from that session, including a much heavier mix of "Here." There's two four-song John Peel sessions, each of which include some great non-album tracks. There's the Watery, Domestic EP, which includes both "Frontwards" and the incredible "Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)," which is one of the band's best early songs.

On top of all that, there's also a full live show circa '92 that features a sweet mix of well-known tunes and some more random ones ("Box Elder," "Baby, Yeah," "So Stark"). For a band that everyone always calls a bunch of slackers, they were prolific. Some of the later deluxe editions are more geared towards superfans only, but this one is a great one if you're a Slanted and Enchanted enthusiast. And if you're not an enthusiast, you should be. Though my wife still hates this record... Meanwhile, I've been listening to it on a weekly basis for 12 years and I still love it.


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