Rarely has such winsome music been forged from such rough materials.
Andrzej Lukowski 2012
In terms of iconic alt-rock anthems, Pavement’s debut album simply can’t compete with 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or 1997’s Brighten the Corners. And if you want to listen to Stephen Malkmus’ band at their most head-scratchingly odd, you need to head to 1995’s wilfully strange Wowee Zowee or early EPs collection Westing (By Musket and Sextant). Yet if Slanted and Enchanted falls somewhere between Pavement the almost-but-not-quite mainstream band and Pavement the noisy oddballs, then that’s something that very much works in its favour. It feels reductive to call this the band’s ‘best’ album when their other records were of such quality. But it’s the Pavement record with the most heart and charm, their most rounded and pretty set.
This is not to say it’s a smooth ride: the production values are notoriously low/non-existent on a record whose success did much to establish lo-fi as an accepted musical aesthetic. And the band’s indebtedness to The Fall was never more apparent than on guitarist Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg’s raucous Two States.
But from the bumpy dream-pop of album opener Summer Babe (Winter Version), through to the rueful tone poem standout Here (one of Malkmus’ finest lyrics) and on via countless other tracks where a chorus or hook of heart-stopping plaintiveness bursts from the morass of scratchy riffs and wonky drums to casually harpoon your heart, Slanted and Enchanted is a consistently lovely, fresh-sounding record. In many ways its sonic roughness has preserved it from time: production values are never going to date on a record that had no production values in the first place, and the layers of discordant sound serve give it a certain mystique, with every snatch of melody and earworm chorus remaining delightfully unexpected. Rarely has such winsome music been forged from such rough materials.
The album was reissued in expanded form in 2002 as the Luxe & Reduxe edition; the remaster work does little more than up the volume, but a second CD featuring follow-up EP Watery, Domestic and a live set from the Brixton Academy in late 1992 is worthwhile.