In a further attempt to keep me more active on here, I am going to post some thoughts that pop into my head during my Sunday runs, which are our long ones. These thoughts often involve over-evaluating the music I happen to be listening to, and so one can expect that to be the subject of these (when I remember / have the motivation to do them).

Today's spacy Sunday-morning-long-run thoughts:

My soundtrack today was the two disc deluxe edition of what is undoubtedly Pavement's masterpiece, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain". That album (among other things) is a testament to the importance of a great rhythm section. The appearance of drummer Steve West and bassist Mark Ibold were the catalyst for the reigning in of Steve and Scott's wild imaginations. "Slanted and Enchanted" and their early singles are great (and I know some hipster-esque Pavement fans would kill me for this opinion), but it wasn't until "Crooked Rain" that they released a truly enduring classic. West and Ibold might not be the most virtuosic players in the game, but what they lack in chops they more than make up for with style and personality. And, besides, it's not like Pavement was known for the precision of their guitar work. Slightly sloppy is their trademark, and songs like "Stop Breathin'" and "Fillmore Jive" would sound simply wrong if they weren't a little rough around the edges.

Speaking of "Fillmore Jive", one of the finest moments on the entire record is found on that track. It's very interesting that Malkmus offhandedly bids farewell to "the rock and roll era", since, on the one hand, the rock-music-as-massive-cultural-bohemoth thing was certainly fading away (and goodnight, indeed), but at the same time that very song and the album it is a piece of were a part of the vanguard for the new artistic face of rock in which an everyman could be an important factor in the genre, and taking oneself and career too seriously was no longer the norm.

Which leads me to my next (tangential) point: this "interview" with Gene Simmons that is getting circulated over the last few days (can a conversation with one's son in which you spout your opinions be called an interview?) in which he declares rock "dead". His evidence? The fact that he (and, apparently, his son) can't name a band since ~1983 that is "enduring" or something like that. The only name they can come up with is Nirvana. Apparently they never heard of Fugazi, Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and countless others. Hell, if KISS is considered a legendary band that is "enduring" or whatever, than surely some pompous band like Green Day surely counts as well. Just because you can't be bothered to keep up with culture in the last three decades, Gene, that doesn't mean that rock music is dead. You are just a relic of an old age when making comic books, action figures, and hokey made-for-TV movies was considered a "rock" move, and as Malkmus would say, "they don't need you anymore".



Despite being a bit of a disappointment for the band in terms of sales and critical accolades (at least when compared to the adoration fans and critics alike heaped on their first two albums), Wowee Zowee holds a special place in my heart, in part because it was my introduction to the band, and partly because many of my favorite Pavement songs are found on this album. And I honestly might never have heard any of them if the artwork hadn't drawn me to it.

Pavement's reputation as the most innovative, quirky, and downright fun indie band had reached my circle of awareness by 1995 when Zowee hit the shelves, but I had never actually heard any of their music. Spending $15 on a CD by a band I had never heard a song by was not a practice I made a habit of in those days, but three factors made the decision for me. 1) The buzz around this band was incredible, 2) several people whose opinion I trusted absolutely adored them, and 3) the artwork for their latest release was just the kind of bizarre stuff that my 15 year old tastes went for. This third element was really what ended up pushing me over the edge and purchasing the album, and 18 years later Pavement is still one of my favorite bands, and Wowee Zowee is one of the most important records in my collection.

The art is by Steve Keene and it is a stylized take on a photograph from a 1970's issue of LIFE magazine which depicted two women sitting in dark robes near a goat. (lead singer) Stephen Malkmus chose this particular piece out of over 50 paintings that Keene produced at a live painting session.


Unlike most of the other guitarists on this list, Stephen Malkmus is not known for his flashy, intricate playing. Instead, this frontman of both Pavement and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is renowned for his creative approach to songwriting and instrumentation.

His earliest works with Pavement are a blend of hardcore punk and atonal art-rock in the spirit of Sonic Youth. As the years have gone by, however, his penchant for surrealistic pop music has come more and more to the forefront in his writing. While it is easy to get distracted by the zany non-sequitors of his lyrics, his guitar innovations are every bit as fascinating and important to his legacy.

Shortly before their break up in 1999, Pavement appeared on HBO's Reverb. This performance of "The Hexx" was the last song from that performance, and it perfectly exemplifies SM's unique guitar prowess.

 

For years, Pavement was an experimental recording project, showcasing the unique song-crafting of Stephen Malkmus and Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg.  Angular, occassionally atonal, and always unique, if Pavement never recorded anything else besides these early e.p.s, their place in the indie rock lexicon would have been slated eternally.  The fantastic blend of two guitars, no bass, and Gary Young's drumming was a great success.  Eventually the three recorded a full-length album, which took a few years to finally see the light of day, and that was Slanted and Enchanted.  With the release of that album, Pavement officially became a phenomenon.  While grunge swept the nation, Pavement's blend of lackadasical slacker rock spoke to a lot of people.  

By the time had come for Pavement to record their second album, a bass player (Mark Ibold) was added, and Gary Young was fired and replaced by Steve West.  It is these two elements that ultimately defined Pavement's second album, and subsequently, the rest of their career.  This band is (slightly) more refined, and melody appears in earnest.  West's drumming, in particular, truly shines on this album and adds excitement at key moments.  In "Fillmore Jive," for example, the huge sweeping builds that come like waves are led by his fantastic fills.  

The instrumentation on this album is what sets it apart from their early attempts.  Huge, fantastic instrumental sections in songs like "Stop Breathin" and "Newark Wilder" are chilling, innovative and just really exciting to listen to.  The interplay of guitar work between Malkmus and Kannberg is quirky, fun and bright.  

Crooked Rain will go down in history as the album that defined not only Pavement's sound, but many imitators for years to come.  The reissue that is available on the market now is particularly great because you get the album, all the b-sides and compilation releases, and a whole CD of demos showing the thought process that led to this masterpiece.

September 2014

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