Discovering your favorite band in high school is just as important and meaningful as choosing your group of friends. Besides providing catharsis for all those teenage hormone fueled emotions, it’s about discovering and expressing yourself. Even the high school jocks have a favorite band, and it means as much to them as yours does to you.
The stereotypical music obsessive is underweight, weak, nerdy, and emotionally scarred. They’re people that feel different from everybody else. Most rock stars began their lives as the kids who always got picked on. They turned to music to either provide a release for their pent up emotions or to get the girl and become popular, sometimes both.
Typically the music obsessives first band is something angry and violent that will piss off their parents. Virtually all music, everything from The Beatles to Bob Dylan to The Clash to Black Flag, is written by and for pissed off youth. Teenage angst has been the driving force behind music since the jazz explosion of the 1920s.
If Nirvana had existed ten years earlier they would have been just another underground indie band who ran their own label and toured by spending days crammed into a cheap van and nights sleeping on strangers floors. Instead they existed in the right place at the right time. Thanks to Kurt Cobain’s sexy looks and catchy hooks, MTV, and an incredibly tight rhythm section, Nirvana became the biggest band the world had seen since The Beatles. Teenagers across the world hailed Cobain as a god. Much like Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan turned him into the unwitting face of the early ‘60s, Nirvana’s Nevermind turned Cobain into the spokesman of the early ‘90s. And just like Dylan, Cobain loathed the title.
Part of what made Cobain so appealing was how much adults detested him. He was constantly strung out on heroin, rarely bathed, and his music was simplistic. Teenage girls fantasized about bearing his children while teenage boys learned the guitar riff to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and pretended to know what the lyrics were.
Every teenager in America, from the geeks to the football players to the cheerleaders to the stoners loved Nirvana, and that’s exactly why Pavement became so popular and critically acclaimed. Halfway through my sophomore year Radiohead became my favorite band and stayed that way throughout high school. While my peers were listening to The Strokes, Arcade Fire, and Coheed and Cambria, I had Radiohead all to myself. They helped define me as an individual, and it was a great feeling.
Pavement’s debut LP Slanted and Enchanted kicks off with a screech. Scott Kanberg’s guitar lick on album opener “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” cuts through the lo-fi noise like a gunshot through your eardrums. Second track “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite at :17” continues Pavement's signature piercing guitar, sloppy, minimalistic drumming/percussion, and basic bass riffs. God only knows what Malkmus is singing about. Yet, he has a gift for making you feel in your heart he’s singing about something important. Third track “No Life Singed Her” opens with Malkmus screaming like he got his hand caught in a toaster before launching into one of the dirtiest, sloppiest, most lively lo-fi pop rock songs written before or since. “No Life Singed Her” is a mere two minutes, but it hits you so hard and fast it feels like one. The first twenty seconds of fourth track “In The Mouth A Desert” opens with the band playing languid and slow before launching into a steady, gritty, lo-fi groove. The next four tracks on Slanted and Enchanted pleasantly assault your ears like Mike Tyson jabs, none of them exceeding the three minute mark.
What makes Pavement so great is they sound like an accidentally genius high school garage band instead of a professional ensemble. In some ways Pavement was nothing more than a high school garage band. Gary Young was such an abysmal drummer Pavement added percussionist Bob Nastanovich to act as a human metronome. Bassist Mark Ibold plays his bass the way it was intended, as the root and foundation of every song. His bass lines acting as the glue holding the novice ensemble together. What Pavement lacked in skill and technique they make up for in songwriting and passion. Every song is simple, grimy, and full of more spastic energy than a Kindergartner's imagination.
In an era full of rock stars who hid their virtuosity and wealth behind an illusion mimicking indie bands of the early eighties, Pavement was the real deal. Even after they were doused with critical acclaim and got the chance to sign to a major label and go mainstream, they refused, staying true to their indie rock roots. Pavement may have been a tiny pebble in a vast lake, but the ripples they left behind still affect music to this day. Slanted and Enchanted will forever stand out as one of the best albums created during the last great decade in music, a perfect four out of four.