A look back at Slanted and Enchanted

When two young guys from Stockton, California recorded a handful of their unapologetically rough tracks, they had no idea what kind of waves the recording would make.

Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, who would adopt the moniker “Spiral Stairs,” recorded Pavement’s debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, in the modest recording studio of drummer Gary Young.

The band recorded and released a few EPs at Louder Than You Think studio, with Young on the drums every time. Young, by all accounts a hippie and eccentric, would eventually be asked to leave after the band began to feel that his antics on tour became too bizarre and disruptive. Steve West replaced him.

Slanted and Enchanted was pieced together as Pavement’s lineup developed. Mark Ibold, a bass player, joined up, as did Malkmus’ college friend Bob Nastanovich, on percussion. Matador Records released the album in 1992, after it had accumulated significant critical praise and a strong word-of-mouth reputation.

The sound was raw. The electric guitars buzz and scream, mix like a metal compacter. The last minute of “Fame Throwa,” beginning at the 2:23 mark, is a prime example of this. Eventually a coherent riff evolves from the noise, making sense and order of it just before the song ends.

That is the tone of this album. Pavement has the compositional and instrumental skills to pull off that rare stunt of making noise in a genuinely interesting way. Even when the tracks disintegrate into out-and-out gibberish, as the end of “Chelsey’s Little Wrists,” it feels intentionally but not uncomfortably excessive. You can’t walk away from this album without a melody or riff following you through your day-to-day.

Need proof? Listen to track two, “Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite at :17″ more than once. Or “Here,” a reprieve close to the middle of the album, that captures the melancholia and bittersweet nostalgia of the Velvet Underground. Malkmus’ vocals complement the noise rock. They don’t quite counterbalance the chaos, but waver enough to feel fragile, if appropriately unstable.

With Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement kicked off a career that introduced new sounds and attitudes to alternative rock music. Wit, irreverence, experimentation, and talent were staples of their modus operandi.

In an interview with Chuck Klosterman, Malkmus reflects on his debut album, saying, “Our records are more attitude and style, sort of in a punk way. We’re good in the same way the Strokes are good. I think Slanted and Enchanted probably is the best record we made, only because it’s less self-conscious and has an unrepeatable energy about it.”

Pavement followed up Slanted and Enchanted with what many consider their breakthrough album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, released in 1994. The single “Cut Your Hair” grabbed the attention of MTV and brought Pavement more mainstream attention with its more rock-influenced tracks.

As Klosterman concludes, “Over the span of five albums and nine EPs, Pavement became a decade-defining band, widely regarded as essential and game changing (at least among those who cared).” Pavement, it seems, succeeded in making those indie-music fans among us care.

* Anne Kilfoyle, MXDWN