12 Songs, 42 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Pavement’s second album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain may be the definitive 1990s indie-rock record, in large part because its lyrical wit and low-key melodic grace feel so tossed-off and casual. The band projected a defiant effortlessness that still sounds incredibly cool today, even without the context of knowing they were deliberately sidestepping the possibility of becoming “the next Nirvana” and dodging a sophomore slump after their 1992 debut, Slanted & Enchanted, was immediately canonized by music critics. They pulled this off mainly by making a bold stylistic pivot from twitchy post-punk and lo-fi artiness to a relaxed stoner vibe, drawing mostly from ’70s West Coast psychedelia and the more jangly end of ’80s college rock.

By embracing a looseness that had been a liability in Pavement’s haphazard early live shows, band leader Stephen Malkmus found his voice and delivered a handful of his most enduring songs—the wistfully romantic but oddly aloof “Gold Soundz,” the bratty bubblegum of “Cut Your Hair,” and “Range Life,” a gentle folk-rock tune that famously doubles as a Smashing Pumpkins diss track. (Billy Corgan stayed mad about that for a long time.) The deep cuts are even better: “Stop Breathin” is a melodramatic epic that conflates a tennis match with trench warfare, “Newark Wilder” is a melancholy ballad about some kind of ambiguous love triangle, and “Unfair” is a sunny punk-rock number satirizing the economic and social tensions between Northern and Southern California. (Somehow this was the second time the band wrote a song about this topic.)

Malkmus sprinkles his songs with homages to every corner of his impeccable record collection, with overt nods to Dave Brubeck on the instrumental “5-4=Unity” and to Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” in the verses of the riffy opening track “Silence Kit.” But as much as the band calls back to music from the past, it never feels like pastiche or a game of spot-the-references. The band’s carefree swagger and nerdy mystique is like an overpowering spice that makes everything sound exactly like Pavement. The shambling style also serves as a cover for Malkmus’s remarkable craft and ambition as a songwriter. It’s all right there, in every song, but it’s all so casual it never feels like they’re showing off. The beat goes slack, Malkmus’s voice goes flat, and it’s all just sleight of hand to distract you from their magic trick.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Pavement’s second album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain may be the definitive 1990s indie-rock record, in large part because its lyrical wit and low-key melodic grace feel so tossed-off and casual. The band projected a defiant effortlessness that still sounds incredibly cool today, even without the context of knowing they were deliberately sidestepping the possibility of becoming “the next Nirvana” and dodging a sophomore slump after their 1992 debut, Slanted & Enchanted, was immediately canonized by music critics. They pulled this off mainly by making a bold stylistic pivot from twitchy post-punk and lo-fi artiness to a relaxed stoner vibe, drawing mostly from ’70s West Coast psychedelia and the more jangly end of ’80s college rock.

By embracing a looseness that had been a liability in Pavement’s haphazard early live shows, band leader Stephen Malkmus found his voice and delivered a handful of his most enduring songs—the wistfully romantic but oddly aloof “Gold Soundz,” the bratty bubblegum of “Cut Your Hair,” and “Range Life,” a gentle folk-rock tune that famously doubles as a Smashing Pumpkins diss track. (Billy Corgan stayed mad about that for a long time.) The deep cuts are even better: “Stop Breathin” is a melodramatic epic that conflates a tennis match with trench warfare, “Newark Wilder” is a melancholy ballad about some kind of ambiguous love triangle, and “Unfair” is a sunny punk-rock number satirizing the economic and social tensions between Northern and Southern California. (Somehow this was the second time the band wrote a song about this topic.)

Malkmus sprinkles his songs with homages to every corner of his impeccable record collection, with overt nods to Dave Brubeck on the instrumental “5-4=Unity” and to Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” in the verses of the riffy opening track “Silence Kit.” But as much as the band calls back to music from the past, it never feels like pastiche or a game of spot-the-references. The band’s carefree swagger and nerdy mystique is like an overpowering spice that makes everything sound exactly like Pavement. The shambling style also serves as a cover for Malkmus’s remarkable craft and ambition as a songwriter. It’s all right there, in every song, but it’s all so casual it never feels like they’re showing off. The beat goes slack, Malkmus’s voice goes flat, and it’s all just sleight of hand to distract you from their magic trick.

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