Pavement

Sure, they wore plaid and had the air of Mike Watt roadies about them, but these guys were everything idiots like Collective Soul or other post-Grunge garbage weren’t; clever, intelligent, and laid back, but not lazy. These guys weren’t Nirvana wannabes or Sonic Youth rip-offs, and while they’ve surely mastered their way around the likes of You’re Living All Over Me and Daydream Nation, these guys didn’t even bother imitating it. Unlike many young bands of the 90s, they mastered the art of phoning in phoning it in; they made the slacker image such an art, but one they never felt trapped to.

Across five triple-A albums, Stephen Malkmus and crew explored not so much the sonic range of the guitar or the verbose lyrical capacity of on-the-rise indie bands like Modest Mouse, but rather created a wholly original sound that valued simplicity over the ornate. Which isn’t to say they didn’t get weird on us, one play of their criminally-underrated Wowee Zowee will display what could only have been induced by copious consumption of garden-variety cannabis, but they honored forgotten traditions in a time where most guys wanted to simply be Nirvana with the chops of finger-tapping 80s Speed Metal.

Pavement used the bass as a tool to guide a song rather than a guitar clone, they used the often forgotten lyrical verisimilitude to paint not so much morality plays or love stories, but seemingly senseless exercises in humorous satire (“Cut Your Hair” was basically the biggest burn on the music industry until a little guy named James Murphy made “Losing My Edge”) and attitude-building. Every word went to paint a vivid picture that made such beautiful, magical sense (“And shes eating her fingers/like their just another meal”) with the skill of a laid back independent author.

But easily the greatest gift Pavement bestowed upon us was not their classic instrument homage or their ear for wordplay, but instead the way they made idiosyncrasy and originality sound so instantly classic. Whether it’s their not-so-glossy nostalgic lo-fi sheen or Malkmus’s wide-mouthed drawl, every album they made, from Slanted to Terror, sounded instantaneously memorable. What serious music geek hasn’t already conceived an imaginary top 20 list of songs? Hint, mine number one is “Conduit for Sale”. Most modern day critics will continuously cite the phrase Wowee Zowee as their own personal favorite musical phrasing, and if having a reaction to a surprise be an unironic exclamation of “Wowee zowee” isn’t wide-spread influence, I don’t know what is.

Pavement didn’t so much define the 90s as much as they did spoof it; Malkmus twanged his guitar sloppily like he was a 12-year-old channeling an equally unskilled Kurt Cobain, their lyrics were full of what most people would refer to as “Pollard-isms”, and hell, they wore plaid that looked like it was snatched from the Wal-Mart clothing department on National Television, where they drunkenly stumbled across the ironically popular single “Cut Your Hair”. Sure, it was Leno that knocked his guitar over, but who could honestly say if these guys weren’t sober or just fucking around?

Other bands have an opus, with the 90s birthing the enchanting Ok Computer, the longing Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Now Floating in Space, and the sonic mush of Loveless, but what other band can claim their entire catalog as their opus? From Slanted & Enchanted and it’s lo-fi fixation and instantly rewarding hooks, to Terror Twilight and it’s Malkmus dominated sounds of anachronistic acoustic interludes and heavy folk influences, Pavement never made anything other than AAA albums. Even Wowee Zowee‘s pot-soaked oddities come together to form a better jagged masterpiece than Hail to the Thief (note to all musicians: this is how you make your anti-commercial statement) and the commercially-viable Brighten the Corners contains some of the most infectious hooks Malkmus ever wrote.

But ultimately, espousing the greatness of Pavement feels unnecessary. Their the classic 90s group, the perfect combination of slacker image and workhorse attitude and not to mention the catchiest damn band from their Era, or really any other, and they did it without the empty, vapid dullness that most hook-centric band succumb to. Unlike Nick Cave, Pavement need no introduction. Everyone knows them, everyone loves them, and why shouldn’t you? They stand atop a mountain of easily-listenable niche 90s groups, towering over even other classic groups like Guided By Voices and The Dismemberment Plan, who themselves could beat the shit out of almost any other 90s Alternative Rock group that ever existed. That’s what you call a legacy. This isn’t DIY, because only Pavement can make genius look this easy.

by Trevor “keeps hacking and whacking and slacking” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. New Legends! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Pavement, by Trevor Johnson […]

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