Slanted And Enchanted


Matador Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Julia Skochko


You can't judge a book by its cover. Surprisingly often, though, you can judge an album by its title.

Led Zeppelin IV. Does it get more concise than that?  It tells the casual browser everything they need to know: it's Led Zeppelin. It's the fourth time they've gotten up to their Zeppelish hijinks.  Page will be stellar. Bonham will be spectacular. Robert Plant's pants will be alarmingly tight. Fin!

Likewise, Pavement's Slanted And Enchanted summarizes their debut better than any adjective-slathered review (including this one). It's ironic, given that Pavement isn't the most "accessible" star in the mid-‘90s alt-rock constellation. Kurt Cobain was disaffected and tormented by drugs.  Eddie Vedder was disaffected and hated his daddy. Stephen Malkmus? Maybe he wants to return to his home planet. Maybe he wants a chicken pot pie. His lyrics certainly don't give any hints. They're sometimes sinister, sometimes bubbly, always obscure. Make that "outrageously obscure.” It's the kind of entertaining gibberish you'd get if you injected Salvador Dali with sodium pentathol and shoved him into a mosh pit. Slanted? You bet your plaid flannel. And it's not just the verbiage that's skewed. While “lo-fi” and “slacker rock” describe aspects of this disc’s sound sound, labels invariably miss the big picture. In this case, the big picture's a fever-dreamy chimera. S&E smushes together fuzzed-out ‘60s rock, explosive proto-punk, and the charm-bracelet jangle of well-done pop, often within the space of a single song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That, my friends, is the enchanted. It's why S&E became a niche classic while its contemporaries went to the big Sam Goody clearance bin in the sky. Its mishmash of influences ought to sound overly-cute or awkward,  but it doesn't. Like a Portuguese Man o' War, it's an eclectic array of elements, improbably fused.  The result? A mystifying creature with brains, beauty, and a wicked sting.

Here's the deal: defining S&E by its irregular arrangements and inscrutable lyrics (metal scars?  Ice deposits?  Leather thighs?!) does it a disservice. Experimental art is frequently something that's appreciated instead of enjoyed. Slanted And Enchanted is absurdly enjoyable. It's weird, but it's also a ton of fun. Tracks like "FameThrowa" (which features sci-fi guitars, a punked-out break, and pretty little "sha-la-las”) make music geeks feel like they're back in junior high... back when it felt like a great cassette might just change your life. Possibility burbles through this album. It's in "Conduit For Sale!"'s swells of shrieky intensity. It's in the distorted psychedelic tangles of "Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era." It's only when Malkmus ‘n’ friends get conventional that the album goes flat.

It's a pretty meager complaint; plenty of groups can't even get convention right. But when a disc crackles with inventiveness, more humdrum moments can be (ironically enough) almost jarring.  "Zurich Is Stained" and "Here" are decent. They're subtle, melodic guy-with-a-guitar tunes. On daytime public radio, they'd be right at home.  But on Slanted, they're square pegs trying to fit in Rorschach blot-shaped holes. "Jackals" would've been a wonderful final track. It's both epic (thanks to a swooping, swirling guitar line) and hypnotic (thanks to lyrics consisting of a single seven-word chorus). "Jackals" soars. The actual closer? The mumbly, lo-fi "Our Singer.” All together now: thunk. An album so chaotically creative deserves to burn out like a supernova, not a cheap forty-watt bulb.

A few lackluster cuts aren't enough to break Slanted And Enchanted’s spell, though. These aren't simple songs. They're not singalongs ("unable to bear the scandal, Ray, philanthropist / Rents low-down scab house in conduit" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily as "Whoomp!  There it is!.") They're bright, quirky, and labyrinthine. Listening to them, you might just revert to fourteen, bouncing on a twin bed, clutching a Walkman like a talisman, realizing that this -- THIS -- is why we listen.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Julia Skochko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Matador Records, and is used for informational purposes only.