Rumors of a band called Pavement--the
mysterious trio of S.M., G. Young, and someone named Spiral Stairs--first
circulated among post-prog-rock indie kids in the late '80s. A few
punky noise-rock singles on college radio caused some ripples in
the burgeoning underground, but the band's first full-length record--Slanted
and Enchanted (1992)--broke the Pavement wave, sending thousands
of college boys and twenty-somethings of above-average intelligence
down a fast, furious and rocky stream of what music writer Alex
Ross has called "sublime nonsense." Before that river ran dry in
1999, we had 10 good years of solid Pavement.
Those early tunes etched Pavement's trademarks of lo-fi driving
guitars, yelling, loopy woo-woo refrains and weird lyrics into the
minds of a small but thrilled public. During the '90s, the group
evolved into S.M. (Stephen Malkmus) plus four, with a new drummer
replacing Young in 1992. The band collected its early singles on
Westing (by musket and sextant), the title of which signaled
the band's on and off obsession with American history. (Pavement's
contribution to the 1993 compilation album No Alternative
further defined that focus; "The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence"
managed to connect the history of R.E.M. to Sherman's march through
During the past decade, the band delivered an elegant and enigmatic
Domestic, and four more full-length albums: The twangy pop
record Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994) that sported a near
hit with "Cut Your Hair"; Wowee Zowee (1995), a critical disaster
loved by the faithful; Brighten the Corners (1997), featuring
the ecstatic "Stereo" and the twinkly Hollywood tune "Shady Lane";
and the smooth and tuneful, slightly over-produced Terror Twilight
(1999). When they eventually split up, Pavement had earned the dubious
honor of being the most famous unfamous band in recent rock history.
Still slanted and enchanted.
Now we have the new, eponymous record from Malkmus: sometime-screamer,
consistently elusive, astonishingly literate and oft-lovely lyricist,
Scrabble smartie, total rock-babe. Stephen
Malkmus is fun and funny, pretty at times, sexy even. On
this first solo record, Malkmus performs some of his signature tricks,
rhyming words that don't really rhyme, stretching the simplest two-syllable
term into a lyric of three or four beats, sketching events and people
with the cleverness and precision of David Foster Wallace. He lets
his voice crack here and there, too--a talent he put to great use
a few years back on the Silver
Jews' dark and brilliant American Water.