At the moment, I’m working on a bit of a secret mixtape project, and the set suddenly seemed to require some classic indie-rock. But what, exactly? Over to my vinyl shelves I went, and suddenly, Slanted and Enchanted popped out at me like an ace from a magic deck. What an album; a cassette with that on one side and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless on the other basically didn’t leave my Walkman the entire summer of 1993, and when I moved to the Bay Area a few years later, I took a drive to Stockton just to see where they’d come from. Nerd.
All five of Pavement’s studio albums (released between 1992 and 1999) are pretty great for different reasons, so the task of whittling down my five favorite songs could be futile, but let’s give it a try. To make it easier on me, I’ll restrict the list to one song per album, why not.
1. “Loretta’s Scars” (Slanted and Enchanted, 1992)
Picking a track from this album is like choosing a favorite donut: there’s nothing wrong with any of them. But Scars embodies what made the album so revolutionary: a thick, staticky, lo-fi sound that seemed to reinvent rock music, referencing both the rolling beat of the Pixies and the drone of shoegaze in a shambolic, apocalyptic California style. “From now on I can see the sun,” Malkmus sings, but it’s not pretty: “makes me nervous, makes me run.”
2. “Gold Soundz” (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, 1994)
The one “single” on my list, “Soundz” relates to the Pavement oeuvre about the same way that “Islands in the Sun” does to Weezer—symbolic precisely because it’s slightly anomalous. While the lyrics sum up hipster come-ons pretty accurately (“you’re empty, and I’m empty”), the chiming, wide-open chords have a pure joy and innocence.
3. “Starlings of the Slipstream” (Brighten the Corners, 1997)
An underappreciated album, if there is such a thing in the Pavement canon, Corners is mellow and mature, and Slipstream’s lyrics notice that “the leaders are dead” with the same deadpan expression as the realization that “there’s no coast of Nebraska.” But just try to resist the gargantuan, strange, melancholy chords in the chorus.
4. “Grounded” (Wowee Zowee, 1995)
On an album with subtle homages across the spectrum of music, from Stereolab to Suede, “Grounded” seems the most Pavement-y, a majestic ballad overlaid with bending, distorted guitar notes. “Boys are dying on these streets,” Malkmus sings, and while he might not mean it literally, he’s truly angry and mournful.
5. “You Are a Light” (Terror Twilight, 1999)
Straddling the two Pavement impulses—wry goofiness, and melancholy harmony—”Light” gets silly in the verses (“gypsy children in electric dresses”?) then launches into the clouds for a soaring, delicate chorus. Don’t forget the third impulse, experimental noise: at the end, the song devolves into backwards blips and plinking nursery-rhyme echoes of the melody.
Okay, fellow Riffers and Pavement fanatics: it won’t take much to convince me I’m wrong (I’m still not sure “Summer Babe” isn’t my all-time favorite). Make your cases in the comments.