This is not my first lap around the oeuvre track. I once attempted to write a post for every Pavement track on a single blog dedicated to the Pavement oeuvre. I’m considering starting this up again, but that’s another project for another day. On this blog, I once wrote three posts discussing the complete catalog of Archers of Loaf. However, today, I intend to take on the oeuvre of one Stephen Malkmus and his ever-faitful Jicks. This is part 1 of a series in which I hope to break down every SM track post-Pavement.
I have no idea what that mess in the beginning: a tribal call of a new era, perhaps. Whatever. This was a clear break from Pavement and a typically lazy stroll of a song for Malkmus to make in the first track of his first venture outside the previously mentioned indie legends. Anyway, the “black book” of which SM is referring seems to be the Bible – literally or metaphorically. By calling the black book “perminently-diversified”, he seems to be addressing the commodified nature of the Bible and possibly the Christian religion in general. Could it be considered a prediction of the hipster Christian megachurch future? Who knows. Either way, it’s a fairly serious song with that familiar, Pavement-esque, lazy hook and feedback flourishes with sloppy layering.
If you lived in Alaska, you would have fantasies about far away, tropical regions as well. Still, the protagonist stays in his winter wonderland where the temperature reaches 99 below and he spends his time fishing through a hole in the ice. Someone – I suspect someone native to the land, maybe an Eskimo – tries to talk his friend out of a move to the tropics. Still, fantasies persist. (Interesting side note is that this song was used for a Sears commercial. I tried to find video proof, but you’ll just have to trust me.)
“Jo Jo’s Jacket”
A track of Yul Brynner talking about the freedom enjoyed from shaving his head opens “Jp Jo’s Jacket” perfectly as Malk goes into a Brynner-inpired soliloquy about his role in Westworld as a robotic cowboy. From there, it gets fairly absurd, including crap house music, a Christmas-y innuendo, and a Dylan quote. It’s a fairly Crooked Rain-era track that made for a good single in true Pavement fashion. The line about being his candy cane hints at a sexual advance, a theme that pops up now and again in SM’s solo/Jicks work now and again. The Dylan quote and the following bit reminds us not to take any of this too seriously. In the end, it’s just a
Pavement Stephen Malkmus song about Yul Brynner.
“Church on White”
“Church…” is the first track that just reminds me of Terror Twilight/Brighten the Corners era Pavement. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Pavement. Anyway, this song for me is Malk’s memoir. He was the spokesman for a generation (or at least the white, male, educated portion of said generation and not exactly by his choosing) and all we ever wanted from him was that he stayed true to form. Whether he sings “I only poured you half a line/life/lie” doesn’t really matter. He admits to only giving so much whether it was a half-finished lyric, a small piece of himself, or a partial deception. Whatever. He’s given a lot. It’s a marathon and not a spring, but I feel as though I’m digressing…
One of two narrative songs on the album – a totally welcomed aspect of Malkmus’ new direction. As it turns out, the dude can spin some yarn. This particular story is about his adventures as a pirate. No one should over think this one. It’s a pirate tale and not some allegory for his time with Pavement or some commentary on class. He’s kidnapped by some pirates and eventually becomes one of them, to the point that he is their leader. It’s just a fun, fun song.
Discretion happens after hours in an anonymous locale. You sneak around like French freedom fighters in World II, fighting for a sort of freedom not everyone needs to know about, an affair, perhaps?
We don’t find trouble; it finds us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, entropy happens and people are messy. Hell, we can’t even spell “trouble” correctly.
This one feels like another Terror Twilight leftover. Continuing Malk’s interest in history, he tells the story of Mortimer Durand and the line he drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I almost wish he had titled the song “The Great Game” as this was the term that described the conflict between Great Britain and Russia fighting for supremacy in central Asia. I don’t know my history well enough to tell you everything, but it’s interesting how the lasting effects of this conflict still remain. Also, the lines “Tension grows in Afghanistan / Carbine bullets could settle the score / I had a crap gin tonic it wounded me / Send my way off on one” are pretty great. It causes me to wonder about Durand’s experience and whether or not he succumbed to the pressure accumulating in the region. (Also, is it “carbine bullets” or “car-Bible-ets”? I always sing it as the latter which is way more interesting and may not be that far off.)
An expertly described scene of a locale where Trojans once prevailed… Now, it’s a hotspot for vacationing Swedes and the like. At moments I’m sure it retains the majesty it once held when Troy was on top at certain times of the day. Once again, Malkmus is able to write a fairly straightforward song that simply describes a nice moment in time and the centuries of history that can overtake you when standing on historic ground.
Ever been in a relationship where you kinda get off by calling the whole thing…er…off? Well, I haven’t. I imagine this as one of those love-hate relationships where making up after regular fights is more fulfilling than being nice to one another. Some relationships need to blow up just to find the spark. They exist in a vague space where relationships rarely flourish except when the threat of ending it is always there.
“Jenny and the Ess-Dog”
The second narrative track of the record is a classic. “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is your basic May-December romance that fizzles once the younger member of the couple out-grows her companion. In this case, Jenny goes off to college, does well, joins a sorority, and does what we’re supposed to do. Her boyfriend the Ess-Dog is an old hippy-type. His life isn’t going anywhere and Jenny’s move to college makes the distance between them and their years too much to overcome.
Yet another post-Terror track with that same lazy easiness which has allowed the final Pavement record to fair well over time. Something about this song reminds me about “Ann Don’t Cry“- maybe the chorus? I don’t know what the song is about. It could be about a slow road trip to Vegas for an impromptu wedding that takes a week to happen. There’s only one appealing person in a room of old people, possibly at a wedding or wake. A prom scene with full-on 80’s feathered hair… It doesn’t matter. It’s a sleepy way to end Stephen Malkmus’ first post-Pavement endeavor.
“Water and a Seat”
Pig Lib is the beginning of Malkmus and his Jicks playing around with some bluesy yet edgy jamband ish. From the beginning riffs, you get the sense that Malkmus doesn’t care and has no interest in making this Pavement, Part Deux. And what better way to invite this new era than with a song inviting the madness the way “Water and a Seat” does? The listener is now prepared for what’s about to occur…
“Ramp of Death”
Jazzy slacker rock takes over with what seems to be a pleasant pop moment in the form of a chorus… Just as SM has embraced this new leap into a new chapter in his career, he’s encouraging his listeners to do the same. I was in my mid- or upper-20’s when Pig Lib came out and it was time to move forward into adulthood. I took this record with me.
“(Do Not Feed the) Oyster”
Despite Pig‘s departure from his Pavement past – now a full album removed – this song does the mellow jazz docents right, mixing this newfound infatuation with blues-inspired jammy-ness and art house aesthetic. Lyrically, it’s a mess trying to cling to a theme that only loosely holds the song together. Still, that’s how we like it. What does it mean to not feed the oysters? Fuck if I know. It’s just a nice song to jam to. Amirite? Somehow it all concludes with a mail-order bride. Why not?
“Vanessa from Queens”
Bob Packwood was a Republican Senator from Oregon who was eventually forced out thanks to some sexual harassment and assault. Bob was dirty old man which explains so much about this track. One of the best lines ever has to be “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes.”
“Sheets” (Sorry, there’s no Youtube video for this one for some reason.)
Sexy Stephen Malkmus makes another appearance in “Sheets” and the instrumentation wreaks of two people going at it over and over again. For me, the song is about getting into a club or party, just getting through the coolness gates or whatever.
It is rumored that this song is about Steve Kannberg. I’ll go with that. Spiral Stairs – like most Pavement members – seemed to not be nearly as serious as Malkmus. SM tried to push that band as far as he could and they just dragged their feet. The band was great for so many reasons, but as I’ve written over and over, it always felt as if Malk had outgrown the band. Sure, in this context, the song comes off as cold, but that’s just how it’s played out.
And now for a complete departure in the form of some New Wave, something you won’t see coming at this point in the catalog. I feel as if this song is about Miami Vice for no other reason than that’s just what it sounds like: ocean-lined highways, neon suits, fast livin’, cocaine, etc. You know, Miami Vice things.
“Witch Mountain Bridge”
I do love the Led Zeppelin-like, medievalist narrative. I get the sense that Malkmus is playing a bit with genre and aesthetic, much like the rest of the album. What really brings the Game of Thrones storytelling together is the extended jam at the end. I catch a lot of flack for liking Malkmus’ music while simultaneously hating Phish and their ilk, but songs like this hit just the right notes – all of them.
Want to demonstrate what Stephen Malkmus can do lyrically and vocally, point your friends to this track. Not only is it another narrative – a positive development over SM’s solo career – but this track actually captures some fantastic word play. First, there’s the love triangle (or is it a square) where one unrequited love is followed by another. The gem in the first verse is “he couldn’t commit to the mental jujitsu of switchin his hitting / from ladies to men.” The next verse finds two of the left-out lovers commiserating over dinner, wrapped up nicely with another great line – full of heart and humor: “they want to stay confined within the fortress of this day / stick that in your craw…check it out…” Yeah, he snuck in “crotch.” It’s one of the sweetest song in all of Malkmus’ oeuvre from Pavement on.
“1% of One”
The blues fest continues… I read somewhere that this song is about the Dutchman Remko Schouten, the sound engineer for Pavement. Much like his debut, it’s pretty straightforward: “Blind son man from Netherlands, he knew not what bands he mixed / They sounded a bit like a Zephyr and a bit like the Jicks.”
The Grateful Dead thing that is hinted at throughout this record comes to fruition in the final song, “Us.” At moments, it reminds me a ton of Loose Fur, the side project featuring Wilco members Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and Wilco collaborator Jim O’Rourke. It’s almost the Jicks theme song. I can’t remember how many of this incarnation stayed on, but it felt like they were writing their tour bio in the form of a jam. Lyrics are written to fit the space between extended jams that groove on and on. The song only clocks in at just over four minutes, but you kinda want them to play it out and see where it goes.
This is the poppier counter to “Dark Wave” which paints a picture of high school days in the early 80’s. This song is dedicated to 80’s jangly guitars and John Hughes movies. Also, this was cute.
“Fractions & Feelings”
This song with the previous one and maybe “Dark Wave” are a bit of an 80’s trilogy. I can only imagine SM was studying his old yearbooks and zines while writing these songs. This is the weakest of the bunch, but it’s fun. (Later, “Lariat” joins the group but with much more sophistication in its message.)
And back to the Grateful Dead. I deny the connection all the time to my wife, but it’s there – literally and between the lines. Aesthetically, I can’t think of another song like this in the catalog. There are the ever-Malkmus lyrical twists, but it has a danceable groove that’s almost conventional pop. Almost.
“The Poet and the Witch” (live)
I only know of a live recording of this track. It hints at the direction Malkmus was heading, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post. Either way, this song is closely related to “Witch Mountain Bridge” in its attempt to connect with a flower child past with Led Zeppelin theatrics, or something. It’s fun and seems like a fun song to hear live.
“Shake It Around” (live)
This is a real rocker and I’m not sure it’s about much of anything aside from rocking. Our mundane lives need shaking now and again and tracks like this do the trick.
That’s the first installment in the series. I hope to get the other albums covered in coming weeks. It’s already been tough to get blog posts out there these days. It’s way past my bedtime and I have…well, actually, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks tomorrow night (or is that now tonight?). Anyway, you can catch some of my thoughts as shared by an actual journalist here. In the meantime, stay tuned for the rest of the series.
Tonight, I am playing records at the Uprise Bar here in Columbia, MO for Monday Night Vinyl. If’ you’re nearby, stop in. The set starts at 9PM and will last until either they kick me out or I run out of records. The latter is more likely than the former as I have a pretty substantial list from which to work below as well as a plan to play through The Walkmen’s Heaven to finish off the night.
You may also follow me on Twitter where I will do my best to update records played and beers had. (I updated the list with what I can remember. I wrapped about two minutes past closing. It worked well and didn’t have to pay for one beer. Said beers: 4 Hands Pryus Saison, Avery 19th Anniversary Tripel, Bacchus.)
Track(s) | Band/Musician | Album
- Cut Your Hair | Pavement | 12 ” single
- Here | Pavement | John Peel Session 7″
Baptiss Blacktick | Pavement | Summer Babe 7″
- With a Girl Like You | Condo Fucks | Fuckbook
- Stockholm Syndrome | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
- Autumn Sweater | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
- Little Honda | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
- The Wall | Yuck | Yuck
- Head to Toe | The Breeders | Head to Toe 7″
- Shocker in Gloomtown | The Breeders | Head to Toe 7″ (GBV cover)
- Auditorium | Guided By Voices | Alien Lanes
- Motor Away | Guided By Voices | Alien Lanes
- Try Harder | Times New Viking | Dancer Equired
- Mr. Superlove | Ass Ponys | Mr. Superlove
- My World Is Empty Without You | Afghan Whigs | My World Is Empty Without You
- If I Were Going | Afghan Whigs | Gentlemen
- Gentlemen | Afghan Whigs | Gentlemen
- Divine Hammer | The Breeders | Last Splash
- Boyfriend | Best Coast | Crazy For You
- Walk in the Park | Beach House | Zebra
- Go Outside | Cults | Cults
- Forward Forward Back | Believers | Believers
- Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
- After Hours | Caribou | Andorra
- Desire Be Desire Go | Tame Impala | Inner Speaker
- Rock and Roll Will Never Die | Neil Hamburger | Hot February Night
- Sink to the Beat | Cursive | Burst and Bloom
- Going Back to Cali | LL Cool J | Less Than Zero
- Michael Jackson | Das Racist | Relax
- Scenario | A Tribe Called Quest | The Low End Theory
- Hey Ladies | Beastie Boys | Paul’s Boutique
- Gangsta | Tune-Yards | Whokill
- Eleven | Thao & Mirah | Thao & Mirah
- Bellbottoms | The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Orange
- Ditch | The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Orange
- Busted | The Black Keys | The Big Come Up
- Gloria | Patti Smith | Horses
- Born to Run | Bruce Springsteen | Born to Run
- A More Perfect Union | Titus Andronicus | The Monitor
- Xmas Trip | Run On | Start Packing
- You’re Pretty Good Looking | The White Stripes | DeStijl
- Indian Summer | Beat Happening | Jamboree
Here She Comes Now | Nirvana | 7″ split w/Melvins (VU cover)She’s Real | Built to Spill Caustic Resin | Built to Spill Caustic Resin 10″ (Kicking Giant cover) She’s Real | Built to Spill Caustic Resin | Built to Spill Caustic Resin 10″ (Kicking Giant cover)Here She Comes Now | Nirvana | 7″ split w/Melvins (VU cover)
- [whenever you see fit] | 7MO6DES4T-HMOEURSEO | [whenever you see fit]
- Slap Me | The Folk Implosion | Take a Look Inside…
- You and Me | Archers of Loaf | Icky Mettle
- Might | Archers of Loaf | Icky Mettle
- Untitled | Interpol | Turn on the Bright Lights
- Obstacle 1 | Interpol | Turn on the Bright Lights
- Look out the Window | The Walkmen | Split EP
- Laminated Cat | Loose Fur | Loose Fur
- Farewell Transmission | Magnolia Electric Company | Magnolia Electric Company
- The President’s Dead | Okkervil River | The President’s Dead
- King of Carrot Flowers part two | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
- King of Carrot Flowers part three | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
- Oh Comely | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
- Heart of Gold | Neil Young | Harvest
Waiting for Superman | Iron and Wine | Around the Well (Lips cover) Waiting for Superman | The Flaming Lips | The Soft Bulletin
- Inside the Golden Days of Missing You | Silver Jews | The Natural Bridge (and maybe something else from this album)
- Honk If You’re Lonely | Silver Jews | American Water (and maybe something else from this album)
- The Wild Kindness | Silver Jews | American Water
- Discretion Grove | Stephen Malkmus | Discretion Grove 7″
- Two Beck tracks that I’ve forgotten…
- Fall Away | Stephen Malkmus | Mirror Traffic
- Gorgeous Georgie | Stephen Malkmus | Mirror Traffic
Billie | Pavement | Terror Twilight Fight This Generation | Pavement | Wowee Zowee Two States | Pavement | Slanted and Enchanted Stereo | Pavement | Brighten the Corners
- Fillmore Jive | Pavement | Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
I’ve come to the realize that all I’ve ever wanted to do was write. There’s some regret that I didn’t use my college years to develop my writing more than I did. Instead, I decided teaching children was a better use of my skills. Boy, was I wrong.
Blogging has only been a hobby of mine for the past five years. Aside from a few posts picked up by the local paper, I’ve generally only seen my words in digital ink and not the soy variety. However, this is the closest I’ve come to both developing my writing and actually publishing what I wrote.
That’s about to change. As some of my regular readers are aware, I’ve often contemplated turning what I do here into a book of some sort. Obviously, these posts are a long, long way from being published, but the growth I’ve seen in my writing has me thinking that I could do this with some polish here and there. Plus, I am never short on ideas. Yeah, I go weeks with barely anything to say, but I’ve maintained several blogs at once over the years, sometimes able to post on a daily basis. Although I lack polish, I more than make up for it with ideas. I’m like the Bob Pollard of blogging. Sort of.
Although, I have been talking about writing for a while, I really got serious a couple of weeks ago while having beers with a friend. He’s “dabbled” in publishing and suggested that I should just start contributing articles or reviews to magazines. I don’t know whether he was a little drunk, actually enjoys what I have to say, or was seducing me, it made me realize how easy it would be to submit writing to a publication. Actually getting published might be another story, but the idea was to put something out there, to at least try.
So, I started considering publications to approach. I know a guy who wrote every-other record review for the year-end issue of Magnet. (Yes, they’re publishing Magnet again.) He’s an excellent writer, but he seems to appreciate some of my ideas now and again. It make me feel as if I could do what he does, or at least a fraction of it. It may be time to write a record review for submission beyond this blog.
Then, I flipped through to the last page of the March issue of All About Beer. The magazine closes with a feature called “It’s My Round” where people briefly tell their beer-related stories. This particular piece was written by a daddy blogger about his first sips of beer and how he wants to wait to share beer with his son. I could have written those words, but I didn’t. Then, I saw a note at the bottom explaining how to inquire about submissions. That was the opening I needed. I’ll write about beer and Pavement in a beer magazine. It might not get printed, but at least I’ll be able to say I tried.
Finally, the other night, semi-frequent commenter Holly sent me a link to a call for submissions. The venerable 33 1/3 series which features short book on some seminal albums is asking for submissions for new projects. The books are simply memoirs about some of the greatest albums of the last 30 or so years. Some editions just tell the story of the recording of said albums. Others tell a band’s story, focusing mostly on one moment in their history. Still, others tell the story of the listener’s relationship to the album. Whatever, I decide to do, this is a project I must try!
I had to drive for 90 minutes after learning of the call. So, I had time to think. My mind raced from album to album, trying to pinpoint the album most deserving of a 33 1/3 edition. I then had to consider my angle as the call implied that unique stories would receive preferential treatment. Maybe I could write about an album in relation to the rise of craft beer. Maybe there’s an angle I could consider that I’ve already explored on this site. Maybe I have a perspective no one else has…
So, I came up with a list of possible proposals for the series, but the publishers will only accept one. Feel free to submit your own, but all I ask is that you don’t steal any of my worthy ideas (if there are any). Tell me which I should pursue in the comments. I have an idea which one will stand the best chance of being accepted and actually completed, but I want to see what you all think. I also welcome any ideas you may have for me that I’m completely missing.
Terror Twilight – Pavement
This isn’t even my favorite Pavement record, but I feel there’s a story that hasn’t been told. For those who aren’t aware, this was Pavement’s last record. Between my experiences throughout the nineties with the band, my attendance at their final North American show (the first time around), my attendance at two of their reunion shows in 2010, and the stories swirling around their inevitable breakup during the recording of Terror Twilight, I think there is easily an entire book to write.
The Body, the Blood, the Machine – The Thermals
This album carried me through a tough time in my life and is just so ridiculously good. I thought that I might connect it to the rise of craft beer in Portland (or the rise of Portlandia in general). Plus, I have established a rapport with head Thermal Hutch Harris. Still, it might be a stretch to make the connections I’m trying to do here. That, and I’ve never been to Portland. I also considered albums by Cursive and Spoon during their brief sojourns to Portland or the transplanted albums by The Shins or Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.
Number Seven Uptown – Swearing at Motorists
I always felt that this album just sounded like growing up in Ohio. Dave Dougman has an interesting story cutting his teeth in Dayton, before heading to Philly and eventually Berlin. He also seems really approachable. However, I don’t know that this album is known well enough for it to garner its own spot in the series. It’s certainly seminal to my experiences, but that might not be enough for 33 1/3. Other possibilities could include a Guided By Voices album not yet featured (Alien Lanes?), The Amps’ record, or Brainiac’s Hissing Prigs in Static Couture.
Other records I would consider but would probably just research the band, possibly leaving out my own experiences…
Perfect from Now On by Built to Spill
The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse
Come On Feel the Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens
Any album by Archers of Loaf
Funeral by Arcade Fire (Seriously, no one has written this book yet.)
Please come correct with your suggestions or your take on what I’ve cooked up here. Particularly, I’d love to hear the perspective of my beer enthusiast readers who know of a beer/music connection I must explore.
In last week’s top-5, I predicted there would be some indie rock tribute beers this year. Since I want to be part of the solution and not the problem, I have decided to post five possible examples of beers that could be brewed as a way to properly recognize the chemistry that exists between indie rock and craft beer.
5. Dogfish Head Guided By Voices Heavy Lager – I once heard Bob Pollard proclaim on stage that he drinks “Bud Heavy” and not Bud Light. So, I think Dogfish Head needs to produce a “heavy” lager, maybe an imperial pilsner or high ABV bock of some sort and dedicate it to the reunited classic GBV lineup. I chose Dogfish Head because they’ve done this sort of thing before and there’s a picture of Sam Calagione wearing a GBV t-shirt out there somewhere.
4. Stillwater Bright Eyes Angst-Ridden Saison, Aged in Red Wine Barrels – I once had a pretty in-depth discussion about Bright Eyes with Stillwater brewer Brian Strumke. So, I know he’s a fan and would totally be into this sort of thing. I also know that Conor Oberst loved some red wine. If anyone could figure out a way to brew the perfect beer involving a red wine barrel (Pinot Noir possibly?), it’s Brian. This is actually the beer on this list that I personally think has the best chance of actually happening.
3. The Bruery Pavement Pilsner, AKA Watery Domestic – Of course I had to figure out a way to work Pavement into a beer. I suspect The Bruery could tap into Pavement’s Northern California aesthetic from their early days and brew their first commercially-available pilsner in the process. Since it’s from The Bruery, expect some flavors and adjuncts that will throw you for a loop.
2. Shmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Yo La Tengo Barley Wine – A better brewery and band pairing would be hard to conjure. Shmaltz calls NYC home and specializes in Jewish-themed brews with their He’Brew line, particularly their Hanukkah gift pack. Yo La Tengo hails from across the river in Hoboken, but they spend a lot of time in the City. Every year, YLT celebrates their Jewish heritage with a set of shows each night of Hanukkah. A huge barley wine that improves with age would be ideal.
1. Just About Any Portland Brewery to Brew an IPA in Honor of Just About Any Portland Band – I get that this will be seen as a cop-out, but how could one narrow Portland’s beer and music scenes to just one brewery and one band. The one thing that isn’t hard to figure out is the beer’s style. An IPA makes the most sense here as some of the best come from Portland. Their bitterness can be a turn-off for some at first, but eventually the joy that is a Wests Coast IPA is discovered. The same goes for the average Portland indie band.
Update: This happened today. Let’s get on this, Stillwater, Bruery, Schmaltz, et al.
OK. I’ve waited long enough. Here are my top-10 albums of the year. Most should come as no surprise, if you’ve been reading this blog all year. To start things off, we have the #10 album that I picked from a list of albums just outside the top-10…
I currently do not own this record. I missed their show in town. Finally, at some point in November, I gave the record a listen on Spotify and was blown away. Ever since, I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. I don’t think it cracks the top-9 as they have stayed constant all year or at least since they’ve been released. Either way, this is a strong, strong record. It has that lazy garage rock mumble former member Kurt Vile does so well, but there’s an aura of shoegaze and shitgaze all in one album. It’s cool and hauting, even beautiful in some parts. I still regret not seeing this band when they came to town. Oh well. I’ll make up for it by propping their album up as one of the best of 2011, a year that has turned out a surprising amount of good-to-great music.
Although “boring”, there is nothing wrong with this album and that should count for something. After falling instantly in love, I soon decided that it was my mission to hate it. I couldn’t. Somehow, Justin Vernon achieves epic soundscapes, big noise, soul, urgency, and bitter cold in the most subtle of ways. I want to hate this record, but I can’t. It just feels right. Gone are the quiet, hushed log cabin recordings of yesteryear, but the intimacy is still there. This album is a major achievement and should be recognized as such.
I missed this album’s release somehow. Insound was having a sale on Merge albums and I grabbed it since I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Friedberger’s material with Fiery Furnaces. Anyway, this record is incredibly more approachable than the FF’s stuff. It doesn’t hurt that she was so cool hanging out the night she played St. Louis. I have a soft spot for artists who are nice people. Anyway, the album held up that night and I haven’t stopped listening since. Equal parts Patti Smith, Stephen Malkmus, and Joni Mitchell. It’s a really strong album from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what Friedberger does next.
I loved Thao Nguyen’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and saw she and Mirah perform some covers online. That was all I needed to purchase this largely overlooked yet timely album. Aggressive, percussive, completely danceable, and very fun, Thao & Mirah was a strong contender for this list from the first time I listened to it. This is a powerful record by two accomplished female artists about which I want my daughter to know. If this album somehow missed your awareness this year, go buy it and have some fun.
I don’t know what it is with all the nostalgia for Phil Spector these days, but Cults captured that and more with this solid effort, turning in the song of the summer in “Go Outside”. The album was a breath of fresh air since its release last spring. There was a time when I considered it an outside shot at album of the year. It captured my imagination that much. I worry that the band will struggle to put out anything as good as their first, but this isn’t a bad legacy to leave either.
Something about Tune-Yards was rubbing me the wrong way. Not sure what it was, but it didn’t last long. Everywhere I went, this record was playing. In fact, my favorite hangout often had this record spinning. I couldn’t resist. It’s infectious, raucous, fresh. I love the mixture of a lo-fi, nineties, guitar thing mixed with this dance-centric, percussive aesthetic all the kids are going for these days. I could listen to this album over and over, something I could say for any of these records, but especially for this one.
Wye Oak’s earlier material did next to nothing for me. Then, they did a couple of those AV Club things where they played cover songs. Then, they released a video and I was taken back to some mid-nineties indie. Stuff like Throwing Muses or Madder Rose when all these female voices began to emerge above the feedbacked fray of that era. This album is pure retromania for me and it’s plain good from first track to last. Jenn Wasner’s deep voice over a cacophonous racket fills my nineties nostalgic needs, much like the following albums on the list…
I have gushed enough about the nostalgic love I hold for this band and this release, but I have to say more so as to justify its placement in my top-10. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t actually like the bonus material on the deluxe version of the record. Not everything these youngsters touch is gold. So, with this in mind, one has to consider that it’s impressive how right they got it when they put together an album that should have come out 15-20 years ago. Feedback, angsty lyrics, more feedback… It’s as if they invented the 90’s indie aesthetic and not Pavement or Sebadoh. I love this record. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it perfectly captures what will be some pretty perfect moments in the development of my musical tastes.
When I heard this group was getting together, my head nearly exploded at the thought of all the possibilities. Then, they toured and my head blew up again re-imagining the ruckus Sleater-Kinney used to cause back in the day. Then, the music began to trickle out. Early on, the urgency detected in “Future Crimes” made me realize that this band was going to blow away all expectations. Wild Flag’s self-titled (a lot of these lately) debut is the perfect mix of S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, Runaways barnstorming, and indie sensibility. This album may be an all-time top-10 pick forever, assuming their follow-up isn’t more awesome. The guitar and vocals interplay between front women Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein is only surpassed by the work Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss are doing with backing vocals and holding down the low end. This is the super group to end all super groups.
Yes, I’m biased, but how is this album not on every end-of-year list. I either missed the memo or have yet to change out of my Pavement-tinted glasses. I’ve never thought a Stephen Malkmus solo album to be a top-10 record much less a #1, but Mirror Traffic is different. The prog wizardry and blues riffs have been taken down a notch with the perplexing and sly wit of Malkmus’ songwriting coming to the front. Plus, the accumulation of talent in this band is pretty insane considering the ramshackle band Malk fronted for a decade made some of the most memorable music of my lifetime. This is the first album he’s done that doesn’t feel like the continuation of Terror Twilight, a complete break from his former trajectory and an album that sounds like another band wrote and recorded it. Then, there’s the production which is quintessential Beck Hanson all over. This is the easiest Malk album to which to listen since those halcyon days of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In fact, I’d say Mirror Traffic falls somewhere between those two great albums and Wowee Zowee. Yeah, I said it. So what?
I’m rambling a bit now, but that’s the list and I stand by it. (BTW, it’s no accident Janet Weiss is part of the top-2 records of the year.)
Carrie Wade thinks she’s really funny, so funny that she posted this atrocity on my Facebook wall. Really? We’re supposed to believe that Pavement pairs well with 1 PBR? What, because they’re like hipster slackers of something? Eff that.
I’m taking it upon myself to pair some bands with beers that make sense. Comment freely or suggest your own pairings. The wrong that has been created on Drinkify must be stopped. I mean, we’re trying to build coalitions up in this joint.
Pavement – Saison
I considered choosing one beer for Pavement but settled on a style instead. With a band like Pavement, it depends on the record. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain might require the smooth quirkiness of a Boulevard Tank 7, but Wowee Zowee is a Boulevard Saison Brett all the way. The Saison is one of the more versatile styles out there. These beers can be loved or hated, depending on one’s mood, but they are generally appreciated. The range of flavors (earthy to citrusy to sour to bitter) is only equaled by the range of Pavement’s discography. Also of note is that Stephen Malkmus represents the entirety of the Stillwater lineup of artisanal Saisons.
Wilco – Schlafly American Pale Ale
What goes better with dad rock better than a slightly hoppier pale ale from the St. Louis area? Wilco, of course. This easy-drinking lesson in hoppiness is the perfect beer for the dad who wants to still show that he’s cool without drinking anything too bitter or high in alcohol. I mean, he does have to drive home. I also considered Three Floyds’ Alpha King, but figured it only paired with Wilco’s more obtuse work like A Ghost Is Born.
Fiery Furnaces – New Belgium La Folie
They’re both difficult to love sometimes, but if you put forth the effort to find what’s good, it’s totally worth it. Because of this, both have the most loyal of fans who must learn to ignore all the judgmental stares from their peers for choosing to like something so difficult. I considered several more artsy, more difficult bands (Joan of Arc, Beat Happening) along with other Flanders red ales (Duchesse De Bourgogne, New Garus Wisconsin Belgian Red). The pairing just seems right.
Guided By Voices – Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
I realize that Bob Pollard drinks Bud, not sissy craft beers, but the classic IPA is perfect for macro-arena rock from the midwest. I was torn on several bands and IPA’s, but I settled on two classics. The best part of the IPA are all the variations it’s birthed along with other possible pairings. Dinosaur Jr ruins your eardrums like a Stone Ruination IPA (which is really an imperial IPA) ruins your tastebuds. Other Stone varieties also pair well with similar indie outfits such as Cali-Belgique (Yuck) or the 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA (Chavez). Of course, there’s always old standbys like a Modus Hoperandi (Superchunk) or Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Archers of Loaf)…I could go on and on, but there are other beers and bands to pair.
Where was I?
Sonic Youth – Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
There is a ton going on in a Sonic Youth record. Layers of rebuilt guitars and alternate tunings upon alternate tunings create a cacophony that’s all their own. And over the years, SY has grown into almost a completely different band. While they sound nothing like themselves 30 years ago, only they could have evolved the way they have. This is much like Canadian Breakfast Stout, the much hyped and oft-cited imperial stout of the moment. At the moment, there’s a lot of noise in that beer. The suspicion is that it will undergo a Sonic Youth-like metamorphosis while in the bottle that sits in my cellar. I’ve had a taste, but I can’t wait to have another.
Sufjan Stevens – He-Brew Genesis 15:15
Speaking of having a lot going on, this musician and beer pack a whole lota flavor in relatively small packages. Sufjan Stevens brings one layered opus after another from his home in Brookly, much like the brewers at Schmaltz/He’Brew. The religious imagery and connotations are undeniable…This is a pairing made in heaven.
Wild Flag – Avery/Russian River Collaboration not Litigation
The members of Wild Flag were never in any danger of suing one another, but they have collaborated to create one the year’s best records. The Avery/Russian River collab is nearly as caustic and full of riot grrrl power as Wild Flag is. Plus, at nearly, 9% ABV, it makes you as woozy as one might feel after a Carrie Brownstein windmill combined with a Mary Timony classic rock non-riff. Confused? You should be.
I think I have more, but it will take some time to sort them out. In the meantime, what are your favorite beer/music pairings? Do you like any of the pairings I suggested above? Do you have a better pairing for the bands and beers I listed here? As usual, leave some comments.
Stephen Malkmus will never live up to what he did in the nineties. Of course, he shouldn’t have to. He said enough with the Pavement output that he has nothing left to prove, for me anyway. What’s most amazing about that material is that Pavement was actually not that great of a band. Sure the whole was greater than the sum of the parts and they had a certain chemistry, but the band was not technically that talented. Well, aside from Malk’s songwriting. Eventually, his overall musicianship surpassed those of his band mates, the band was unceremoniously dumped, and the Jicks were born.
The Jicks have been for the most part hired guns. Granted, they’re hired to help write and record and really be a part of the band, but they’re often still involved with their own projects. Also, in contrast to the ambiguity that was Pavement’s structure in the early days, there is no doubt from the beginning whose band this is. Still, SM finally has a group of musicians that can match his vision. Long gone are the days of Malk taking over the drum kit to show Westy how his part should be played. The parts of the Jicks make a pretty formidable band of professional musicians who can make whatever is going on in Stephen Malkmus’ brain a reality.
What also has changed is the necessity for Malk to fill holes all on his own. With Pavement (and to some extent early on in the Jicks era), SM would deliver his lyrics with a jazz musician’s impulsive stroke. He would bend and contort his words to fill space and make an otherwise forgettable sequence memorable. One has to assume that he also dumbed down song structures to better match the band’s capabilities. This second point is hard to detect, but after watching Malk’s songcraft development over the last few Jicks albums, it’s hard to make an argument that Pavement was a better band of musicians.
Never had I fully realized how much further ahead Malkmus was from his band mates in Pavement until I saw them reunite last summer. During guitar solos, bridges, and moments of improvisation, Malk was lazily tearing away at his guitar, almost playing around. His playing was effortless and extremely tight. The gap between Stephen Mallmus and Pavement had grown over the decade. I always thought the gap was there, but it was way more apparent last summer.
I don’t mean to pick on Pavement. They are still my favorite band who produced my favorite records and some of the more memorable moments I’ve seen on a live stage. They hold a special place in my heart and will never be replaced. Of course, I sometimes wonder how much of that was Stephen Malkmus and how much was the entire band. I suspect a little bit of both. I also think it worked really well for a decade and went as far as it was meant to go before it ended.
In the meantime, Stephen Malkmus continued to grow past Pavement. His self-titled debut was just the next record. However, he was now writing for people who would be able to play what he wrote. The record is loaded with hits, but it never truly received the attention it deserved commercially. The break from Pavement continued as Malk became more comfortable with his somewhat regular/irregular lineup and produced Pig Lib, an album that nearly sounded identical to an SM & the Jicks live show rather than a studio album consisting of mostly Stephen Malkmus and the jicks (lower-case j).
Face the Truth sounded like the next Pavement album, building off Terror Twilight‘s ominous laziness. However, as suggested above, the band was much more capable in carrying out Malk’s song ideas and the album quickly takes you beyond Pavement. Then, Face the Truth explores Malk’s bluesier side as his guitar heroism grew by leaps and bounds. It’s as if the time he spent playing with capable musicians finally allowed him to just play and explore. With Pavement, he often started the songs and the rest of the band received their cues from him. The Jicks are self-sufficient and don’t need the same amount of direction. This has allowed Malk to just play and even sing it straight.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks finally felt like a realized entity once Real Emotional Trash hit the market. Pseudo-blues and jazz jams from their live show combined with Malk’s lyrical wit made this a highlight in 2008. Songs meandered. Shit got weird, but it felt like this new band was fully realized and ready for something more.*
All of this comes together in the form of the excellently produced, written, and executed Mirror Traffic.
Loopy “Tigers” opens with a sing-along rock edge that hints at the seventies-esque production that continues. The second track, “No One (Is As I Are Be)”, is your lazy Sunday, AM radio piece of gold soundz that even brings the French horn and piano to the party.
“Senator” is your customary third track that doubles as the album’s single. For my money, this is the most complete, best Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks song ever. Malk’s bizarre lyrical content, topical-ish subject matter, and cool delivery is matched by a rather rocking track that hits epic proportions without trying too hard. If it were not for all that blow job business, this would be the late summer’s college dorm , radio hit.
“Brain Gallop” takes things back down a notch with an easy, breezy tone that brings forward more of that subtle seventies production value. In case you hadn’t heard, Beck Hansen produced this album. Channeling the ghosts of John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and whatever rock/pop rockers he’s been listening to, Beck subtly adds nuance that was missing from previous Jicks records. He doesn’t do much. There’s reverb here. Echoes there. More organ over there. It’s a masterful work, really. It’s as if he was there but wasn’t really there.
Side 2 kicks off with “Jumblegloss” which recalls some spacier, janglier moments in the Pavement discography, but just intro’s the second half of the first disc. This cut-off works well to set the table for “Asking Price”, a Pavement-esqe mid-tempo, quiet track that tempts chaos without every really losing structure. Again, the careful playing of the Jicks backs SM’s signature lyrical delivery without him having to fill the holes with bends and turns.
“Stick Figures In Love” is a fun song a la SM’s debut. Plenty of seventies’ jangle and guitar heroism carries the track. It moves and causes toe-tapping one can’t help. Malk’s voice is almost too quiet, but you can make it out, suggesting a near-perfect mix and setting up the moment Malk hollers and echoes the song’s climax. The writing is almost Shins-like, something I’d rarely suspect from a Malkmus-penned song. Additionally, I love the groove coming through Joanna Bolme’s bass. It moves me.
“Spazz” reminds me a ton of earlier Pavement songs that fused punk, jazz, jangle, and the weird. Its herky-jerky movement is only accentuated by Beck’s expert dial-work and the Jicks’ collective musicianship. “Long Hard Book” is the (almost) country track a la “Heaven Is a Truck” or “Father to a Sister of Thought.” “Share The Red” closes the first disc with a steady ballad, Malk-style and lovely and comes to some parental truths and the rare moment of perceived emotion.
“Tune Grief” is the glam rocker to kick off what is a jam-packed side 3. (There is no side 4, just a bizarre etching. I suspect Malk’s kids were messing around with his records.) Malkmus makes a case for himself to play the lead in the sequel to the Velvet Goldmine that should never happen.
“Forever 28” is this record’s “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” without all the Volvos, toe rings, and discarded guitars. The following track “All Over Gently” moves and grooves as only seventies pseudo-blues rock often tried to do while maintaining something more upbeat and relatively poppy. I could totally imagine Malk doing this song on an early episode of The Muppet Show with Gonzo doing something indescribable to his harem of chickens backstage.
“Fall Away” is as soft and pretty a Stephen Malkmus song you’ll find. Even so, it contains a bit of urgency wanting to break out that never quite arrives. “Gorgeous Georgie” closes things out Mirror Traffic with a shaky bit of finality and even a touch of the storytelling that’s become ever-present in Malk songs, post-Pavement. The song does what a good closer should do and just makes the listener want to hear more. So, you remove the record and return side 1 to the turntable.
As I’ve mentioned before, Beck’s fingerprints are all over this record, but you’ll need Vince Masuka to find them. The mixing is expertly done. The production takes nothing from Stephen Malkmus’ aesthetic. If anything, it supplements it well, even pushing it to some modest heights.
As for the Jicks, they are as professional as tight a band as you’ll find. Other than Malk and the already mentioned Bolme, keyboardist Mike Clark and drummer Janet Weiss (now moved on to Wild Flag, FTW!) round up what is a great, great band. Clark took subtlety classes from Beck and augments what would have been excellent songs anyway. Janet Weiss proves once again that she’s one of the best drummers alive. The woman just knows how to treat her skins.
There have been times I’ve been down on Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. I just wanted them to be another Pavement, but they are obviously not. And after revisiting Malk’s entire discography and spending a lot of time with Mirror Traffic over the last week, I am really getting to like what Malk’s done since 2k started. Now, he’s equaled the number of Pavement records he recorded and doesn’t show signs of stopping. What also won’t stop is his growth and I can’t wait to see how big he grows.
*Somehow, I forgot to write up Real Emotional Trash. I’m not sure how as the title track runs through my head all the time. Still, hat tip to Justin for pointing out my transgression.
I’m currently reading Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield. The premise is basically that the author has a million and one stories about trying to explain his love for music to various girls and women. He’s confused about how to talk to girls and music is all he can talk about. It’s a relaxing read before I go to bed every night. I like reading about others’ obsession with rock music. It makes me feel as though this coalition is bigger than I once thought.
The book got me thinking about my relationships with girls and women and the music over which I obsess. I haven’t normally had to explain a lot to the women in my life, but there have been times when I felt it was necessary. There is my sister who used to stay home from school and secretly dub all of my CD’s while I was at school or practice. Now, she influences my tastes as much as anyone. There are the infinite female friends who show me up indie-geek-style on a regular basis. Still, I’ve generally dated or pined over women who don’t share my obsession, at least not to the extent I do.
How does one talk to girls about Pavement?
I mean, in the beginning, they were barely a band. Hell, throughout their history, Pavement was barely a real band. Only through years of familiarity and SM’s drive did they begin to resemble a seasoned and cohesive unit. Who needs rehearsal, right? Overdubs? What’s that?
How do you make sense of that? How do you get your girlfriend excited over a band that probably will tune their guitars for most of the set? How do you explain that you actually like Stephen Malkmus’ voice? Why does every song have an inside joke?
Eventually, I quit explaining. Maybe I’d make a mix tape or take a girl to a show, but I lost the need to explain myself. Simply presenting the band as is became sufficient. You can like them or not. I don’t care. I do.
Still, there’s this compulsive need to talk to girls and women about the things we love, particularly bands. I don’t know what it is, but I do it. I’ll tell my partner about this new band or record. If she doesn’t care for the music, she’ll change the subject. If she likes the music, she’ll humor me. Even then, I can only talk for so long before she grows bored.
And it’s not just my wife. At some point, Pavement or some review I wrote on this or past blogs comes up in conversations with other women. The conversation turns south either at the moment I hit over-saturation or I inadvertently insult someone’s favorite band. Still, I go on. I can’t stop.
Now, there’s a new girl in my life. She’s only two, but she’s incredibly responsive to music. Lucia goes through phases with songs. Right now – and for quite a while now – she’s obsessed over Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” and she’ll periodically pick up on new instruments or sounds she didn’t notice before. Lu’s incredibly attuned to music.
Just the other night, she asked me to sing. She hasn’t wanted me to sing to her in bed for a while. So, I pulled out a song I’ve sung to her since she was a newborn: “Cut Your Hair.” She listened. Then, Lucia asked me to sing it again. I sang that Pavement song three or four times before I told her she had to sleep, but she was into it. My kid was into Pavement.
I’ll talk to Lucia about Pavement and other bands, but she doesn’t care. She knows that one Yo Gabba Gabba song gets her to move. She knows that she loves the chorus to Deerhoof’s “Milkman.” And she knows that she loves the “Ooh Ooh Song” daddy sings to her at night. It’s not important why. It just feels right. It makes her happy.
So, I start to wonder if I really do have to talk to girls about Pavement. Of course, like any kind of art, we should discuss it, but do we have to tear it apart and dissect every note and lyric? Probably not. Does it have a good beat that makes you want to dance? Can you sing with it? I think girls and women can get Pavement as much as I do. I don’t have to figure Pavement out for them.
It all makes me think of this Eef Barzelay song, “Girls Don’t Care.” It can come off as condescending or slightly sexist, superficial and stereotypical at best. However, that’s not the point. Listen.
Maybe so much talking isn’t necessary. Maybe we can just enjoy music or beer or whatever. Sure, part of the enjoyment is some nice conversation, but obsessing begins to dilute that enjoyment. The conversation and what consumes us should be the people with which we’re sharing the experience. The girl or woman (or whomever) you’re talking to is what’s important.
This explains a lot about my history with women. Now I know why so many girls lost interest in me when I talked about The Graduate or played another Guided By Voices seven inch. That stuff is fine, but they were interested in me and possibly wanted me to be more interested in them. I guess I figured this out. Hopefully, I’ll keep it in mind as my daughter grows up.
I haven’t finished Talking to Girls About Duran Duran ,but I suspect Rob Sheffield comes to a similar conclusion.
1This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, I honestly don’t read many books. I read plenty, but I have never had much patience for books. However, anything about indie rock, I tend to devour it. That and Sheffield’s last book about mixed tapes was really good.
2This isn’t completely fair as they’ve all had pretty specific tastes in music. Some good, some not so good. Currently, my partner likes stuff like Sea & Cake, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Rachels, Beirut, etc. So, that works.
3It should be understood by now that this doesn’t have to be about girls or women. It could easily apply to boys and men or anything in between. I’m just using girls/women because that’s how I related to Sheffield’s book. We’re boringly awkward straight dudes who could never talk to girls. That’s all.
4Although, I think this topic easily could apply to craft beer or homebrewing. When someone writes Talking to Girls About Beer, I’ll rewrite this post. Until then, I’m writing about bands.
5And by “other women” I don’t mean “other women I am fooling around with” just to be clear. It’s just conversation.
6Pronounced “Loo-sha,” not “Loo-see-ya.” I really wish the nurse at the doctor’s office would read this so that I wouldn’t have to correct her every time.
7I do realize the obviousness of this observation. Still, if it were so obvious, why do we boys feel the need to explain why this album’s great or that movie is brilliant. Don’t we prefer companions who figure this shit out for themselves? My point is that it must not be that obvious. It’s easier to make this assertion than it is to simply quit telling girls how to like music.
8An artist I obviously love as this is the second post in this blog’s history that purposely features his work. Interesting that I don’t have that many of his albums. Maybe that needs to be rectified.
9I’ll get to what it has to do with this post, but the song is more about idiot boys obsessing over things, aesthetics, and media. For me anyway, it’s not about simplifying things for girls. It’s about, well, I’ll get to it. Keep on reading.
10My favorite movie ever, but I’ll save that for a later post.
11Still, even after five years of marriage, I slip back into that mode of talking at my partner about this band or that beer. I’ll learn my lesson for real someday.
12I love how this sentence makes it seem as though I still talk about Duran Duran. Because I don’t. Really.
Disclaimer: This is more than a week after Pavement played Pitchfork, but it took forever for me to write in between things like a day job and parenthood. It’s not the perfect sound forever post I originally intended, but it’s a done post and that’s good enough. I hope you’re liking the new footnotes. They certainly make for an easier read. Also, I got no good pictures at the show, which may somehow be appropriate. For more on my Pitchfork experience, click here.
I waited eleven years to see my favorite band play again. And they started off where they left it in 1999. I mean, it was Chicago instead of Cincinnati and July instead of October, but Pavement was the same.
Pavement’s ability to be rather ordinary or even somewhat imperfect both amazed and infuriated the fans around me, 10-15 feet from the stage, but it made me feel right at home. It was amazingly normal for a Pavement show. Some of the kids who stood for hours with me in front of the Aluminum stage Sunday evening were in awe of this while others were pissed it wasn’t better.
Here’s my take on each band member. I feel like I know them after years of following the band in the 90’s and even more years reading everything I can get my hands on. Of course, I don’t really know the members of Pavement personally, but I’ve seen them live enough to make a few observations.
Stephen Malkmus was stationed stage-right as usual. However, never had I noticed him to be so separate from the rest of the band. Maybe it was the size of the stage or all those things I read about how distant he was from his band mates near the end. Malk was situated as if he were playing to the rest of Pavement as they were playing to us. Anyway, he overcame some early voice issues to put on a pretty good show. His guitar playing is so much better than it used to be. I knew this from seeing him several times with the Jicks, but it was rather apparent upon watching his fingers dance along his guitar, improvising throughout the set. The best part may have happened when he forgot to that it was his responsibility to start a song, such is the essence of Pavement.
Mark Ibold was center stage and having a great time there. He constantly turned to different band members for various cues. He too is a better musician than he was eleven years ago. Ibold was always happy on stage, but Sunday he seemed to exude a confidence from his years with Pavement and now as a part of Sonic Youth’s lineup.
Also seemingly having fun was Scott Kannberg, situated opposite of Malk. Looking a little heavier but nonetheless happier, Spiral Stairs dutifully played his parts and enjoyed his time with his mates. He was wearing a conductor’s hat and, oddly enough, a t-shirt that seemed to match Ibold’s. In fact, four of the band members seemed to be wearing similarly bluish-gray t-shirts with Malk wearing a buttoned-up shirt.
The two-headed percussion monster of Steve West and Bob Nastanovich were by far the most active of the group. Westy played well, if not off time periodically throughout the set, but this was to be expected. I’d never noticed before, but it seemed some of the odd phrasing and drawn out chords from Malkmus were often intended to get everyone (especially West) back on track. I just always thought it was part of his shtick. Who knew?
Bob, of course, held down his many spots on stage, keeping time, blasting the Moog, and taking over all the screaming parts for a weary Malkmus. Nasty looked to me to be the one getting the most out of this reunion. Although I believe Kannberg values the band’s perception and legacy the most, it’s Bob whose only musical outlet is Pavement. The others all have their musical projects. Nastanovich was using the entire hour-and-a-half set to get this music bug out of his system. And we were all very grateful.
1. Cut Your Hair – Even with a false start, I was so happy to hear the band’s one “hit”. It made me look forward to returning home where I could sing this song yet again to my daughter.
2. In The Mouth A Desert – A typical mid-tempo Slanted and Enchanted track with a slow build-up to a chaotic ending was a logical place to go next. And when Malk sang “I’m the king of it”, there was little doubt of what “it” was.
3. Silence Kit – Another Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain track took the third slot and carried on the mid-tempo party. This one may have gotten a bigger reception than the opener.
4. Kennel District – You had to know that one of the few Spiral Stairs songs would make it into the set. This one is probably his best and band really brought it home.
5. Shady Lane – The promotional posters the band was selling at the merch booth read “It’s everybody’s God”, leading me to believe that the song would make the list. The pause in the middle was perfectly executed and the pit went about as wild as possible for such a light, mid-tempo song.
6. Frontwards – This song has grown in prominence since the band broke up and for good reason. Besides that it’s a great song, the guitar heroics were particularly crowd-pleasing. One thing the song also does is reminds us of why the band broke up in the first place as Malk sings “Well I’ve got style/Miles and miles/So much style that it’s wasting.”
7. Unfair – This rocker got the pit hopping. It also caused an inordinate amount of kids yelling the lyrics. Of course, we were all spent at this point, that is until…
8. Grounded – This song’s opening plucks cut through the must and dirt drummed up in the pit. When it’s proclaimed that “boys are dying on these streets”, I sort of believed it as I was pressed into my neighbors in the ninety-degree heat.
9. Debris Slide – This one was a chance for Bob to be front and center with the chorus being a shout-along.
10. Spit on a Stranger
11. Range Life – As the band approached the third verse, I wondered if Billy Corgan was in the audience. Malk altered the words slightly to say “Chicago’s Pumpkins: flower kids/ they’ve got no function.”
13. Trigger Cut – Two old-school rockers picked up the set’s pace a bit before…
14. Stereo – A good setlist often has a build-up somewhere in the middle and just bombards you. The pit was absolutely insane at this moment.
15. Two States – What a romp this song was and you wouldn’t expect anything else as the audience screamed “forty million daggers!”
16. Gold Soundz – I still remember singing songs like this as I drove though the Ohio countryside with the windows rolled down. This is where I fell in love with this band 15 or so years ago.
17. Conduit For Sale! – The first four or so times I saw Pavement, they never played this song. Now, I’ve seen them play two times in a row. Of course, before Sunday, it had been eleven years ago.
18. Stop Breathin‘
19. Here – These two somewhat somber songs started the slow wind-down to the end.
20. The Hexx – Almost any track from Terror Twilight would have been a good one with which to conclude. Of course, “Carrot Rope” may have been a bit too heavy.
After a long weekend with 18,000 new friends, I quickly assessed that the crowd up front at each stage was young, or younger than me anyway. Pavement’s set was no different. I did find a few fans in my age group, though. I met some guys from Iowa who were also attending the KC show I’m going to in September. There was one guy who had listened to Pavement since ’92 and had never seen them in person. Other than that, it was a lot of kids.
While it’s good that my favorite band’s legacy will live on with all these young fans, it’s bittersweet as these kids had little context with which to judge what they were seeing. For one, there was a freaking mosh pit. I thought those had died out a long time ago, but I saw a lot of moshing throughout the weekend and Pavement’s set had its share as well. There was also a lot of shouting the lyrics. My siblings and I used to love to play around with the delivery of Malkmus lyrics much the way SM does on stage. Shouting is more Bob’s territory, but the majority of Pavement songs should be sung, not yelled. I’ve since dismissed the moshing and shouting as youthful exuberance. There actually isn’t anything wrong with that.
The other thing I observed in the audience was the extreme emotions some of the kids demonstrated. These two kids next to me were in this blissful daze as if they were seeing god. Now, I love Pavement, but part of their charm is how ordinary they actually are. The music they make is remarkable, but it’s also attainable.
An issue that caused some terrible suffering was the bass levels. Positioned right in front of the stage, we were blasted by a ton of Mark Ibold’s bass. My suspicion is that everyone else in Union Park thought it sounded fine as the majority of the sound system is directed at them. Sometimes when you’re right in front, the sound is shittier than if you’re all the way in the back. Nonetheless, a few fans were losing their shit over the bass being too loud. Sure, it was a little bass-heavy (not exactly a cornerstone of the Pavement sound), but that’s the trade-off when you get that close to such a large stage. I was cool with it since I knew what the songs sounded like. I certainly feel like the kid who was screaming and pleading for the band to turn down the bass just had no perspective on the whole thing. He seemed really hurt that they wouldn’t fix the bass levels for his listening experience.
Then the show ended abruptly without an encore. Malk encouraged people to head out to a club to see label mates Times New Viking. Several young fans around me were infuriated. The band didn’t play “Summer Babe“. They didn’t do an encore and they wanted everyone to end the night at a gig for some unknown band in a shitty little club. I thought it was perfect, myself. They played a great set, leaving everyone wanting more. The set was incredibly varied and loaded with fan favorites. And Malk’s encouragement to see TNV demonstrated how these guys don’t see themselves as the legends everyone else does. They’re just another band on Matador.
Did Pavement live up to my expectations? Surprisingly, yes. I was prepared that they wouldn’t be able to match the anticipation I’ve had for this reunion since the Central Park shows were announced almost a year ago. I figured they could never live up to that lofty position they’ve held in my indie rock hierarchy, but they did. Pavement is imperfectly perfect in every way. It’s hard not to meet that kind of expectation.
1It happened to be their last North American gig, a fact not completely apparent to us at that moment.
2I don’t mean this in a creepy super-fan kind of way. I am not a stalker. I promise.
3Which is left to the audience.
4Although, I honestly never thought he was a terrible bass player. Ibold isn’t the best musician ever, but he’s a solid groove-provider.
5She refers to it as the “monkey song” as the ooh-ooh-ooh’s sound more like monkeys than some dudes from Stockton.
6Regardless of which bands left the fest with the most buzz, it’s pretty undeniable where music would be without Pavement’s influence. If not aesthetics, then the ethics of the band have been copied by many an indie band. It’s hard to deny the footprint of a band like Pavement after a weekend at Pitchfork.
7I could have lived without any Kannberg songs, but I understood why there was room for one.
8Of course, I also figured the setlist would only consist of songs from their greatest hits record. I was wrong about that one. Cynics don’t always win.
9Let me explain. Malk is the reason Pavement was any good. That’s been proven by the collective output of the band members. By far the best and most remarkable work has come from SM. Kannberg’s some recording as has West, but I wouldn’t begin to compare the quality of their work with Stephen Malkmus. His talents were nearly wasted in Pavement. I think they got all they could out of that lineup.
10You do know that Corgan has his issues with Pavement, right? They made fun of the Smashing Pumpkins in the aforementioned line. Corgan proceeded to boot Pavement from the ’94 Lollapalooza lineup for such a transgression.
11Who hasn’t fallen in love with a band and/or album this way? Well, driving through the countryside with the windows down, not necessarily the Ohio part.
12As “Carrot Rope” has generally been cited as the Pavement break up song despite it’s upbeat tempo.
13I am totally generalizing the audience here. I do realize there are some rather sophisticated music fans under 30, even under 20. The audience was loaded with kids who would be just as happy attending Bonaroo or Lollapalooza as Pitchfork. They may even have more Phish, Lady Gaga, or Green Day MP3’s than Pavement. That’s OK, but it explains some of the reactions to Pavement’s set.
14I don’t completely understand this phenomena, but I think it has to do with the source of the sound and overall acoustics. Those up front in any venue get mostly the blast from the band’s speakers and amps. The rest of the audience gets a mix that is more balanced as the house speakers often send sound past the front of the stage. The best sound at a show is rarely right up front. I’ve been to shows where the only way I was going to hear the singing was to be close enough to hear it straight from the performer’s mouth or even through the monitors. Otherwise, I believe it’s better to be further back.
15Well, the set did last around 90 minutes. No encore was needed.
16Along with psychedelic horseshit, both Columbus, OH bands. That was my old stomping grounds, but I left before these two shit-gaze troupes took off.
17This is common for Pavement. Just look at the band’s demise in ’99. For an example of not knowing when to stop in order for fans to want more, see Pixies and/or Guided By Voices.
18Or perfectly imperfect. I couldn’t decide which one was more apt.
Disappointment is a part of life. Not everything goes your way. Disappointment can be a downer, it can even hurt a little. Sometimes, that disappointment is so bad that it morphs into distress or depression. Even once you accept disappointment’s inevitability, it doesn’t make the pain go away any quicker.
Sometimes we set ourselves up for the worst disappointments. Hype is built all around a person or an experience, hype that is never attainable. There’s this sense of entitlement that things should go our way just because we want it so badly. In these instances, the letdown is greatest.
Such is the disappointment in my home state of Ohio1. That’s where LeBron James pulled the dagger stuck in Cleveland’s collective sporting heart, washed it in the polluted Cuyahoga River, and returned it to its home deep inside Cleveland Municipal Stadium where he twisted until there was no life left. In other words, he took advantage of his free agent status and signed with a team that is not the Cleveland Cavaliers who have the ability to win championships in the next two to three years as opposed to losing them the past three2. James is now a Heat3. The fans of Cleveland are so disenchanted from this letdown that they’re burning jerseys, making vague death threats, and even writing angry letters in Comic Sans4.
I won’t bore you with the trials and tribulations that is professional sports history in Cleveland5. Let’s just say they have not had much luck. However, when James was drafted as an 18-year-old phenom from nearby Akron, Clevelanders were convinced this was the ticket to ending their suffering. James himself declared his desire to bring a championship to Cleveland, but what star athlete wouldn’t do the same for their long suffering city? Cleveland fans bought into the myth, the legend-in-the-making. Suddenly, it was as if that 30% unemployment rate had disappeared. Drew Carey became funny. And videos like this would soon lose all humor and relevance…
So, things were good for a while. Even though the Indians6 and Browns were still just..well, the Indians and Browns, Cleveland sports fans had hope that LeBron James would return for another go at a championship. The Cavs had the best record in the league for two straight years and James was the two-time reigning NBA MVP as well. If he signed with the Cavs this off-season, LeBron could guarantee himself a max contract and the adoration of Clevelanders for eternity7.
Instead, over the course of an hour-long ESPN infomercial for his ego, LeBron James disappointed every single Cavs fan by deciding to move to Miami. Now, pro athletes do this all the time. However, an expectation had been built that LeBron would never leave Cleveland and win them a sorely needed championship. Sure, some of those expectations were built-up by a 25-year-old man8 who can dunk a basketball with the best of them, but most of those expectations were built or at least embellished by a fanbase hungry for a championship.
Cavs fans were more than a little disappointed and they demonstrated their hurt by burning James in effigy and declaring him enemy #1. They felt they had a right to a championship. They were spoiled by seven years of pretty amazing basketball and rhetoric that made them believe that even Cleveland was entitled to a championship. The entitlement unfulfilled left the people of Cleveland very, very disappointed to say the least.
Sorry for the sporting news, moving on with another example of disappointment…
In my world, I have been obsessed with the Matador 21st anniversary party in Las Vegas and I’m not the only one. If you were to peruse the comments on the Matablog, you would find a similarly ravenous fanbase to the one that follows the Cleveland basketball franchise. And even before the tickets were to go on-sale, a similar sentiment was expressed as those pour fanatics in Cleveland.
Matador fans were already disappointed with the ticket price, hotel accommodations, Las Vegas’ allotment of tickets9, the lack of information, ticket price, no Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 reunion, an inability to call in sick for work to get tickets, ticket price, etc. before the tickets ever went on sale. There was a huge cry of disappointment that no one10 would be able to see maybe the most amazing three-day lineup in American independent music history. And swirling among that disappointment was that same sense of entitlement felt by those jilted Cavalier fans. Only this time, folks who had original “Girly Sound” tapes and saw Pavement when Gary Young still did headstands off his kit were incensed that they were not given their desired allotment of tickets due to their years of fandom as opposed to LeBron James’ jersey-wearing “witnesses” pining for a championship.
In the end, 2,100 or so people were able to score tickets. The real disappointment came when the tickets were gone in 2 minutes11. I should know, I tried in vain for 25 minutes just to get tickets and hotel packages into my shopping cart with no luck. I, like many others, was disappointed.
Basically, these two fanbases suffered tremendous disappointments last week, but not so much because their favorite sports star or indie label had let them down. Oh no, it had more to do with this strange entitlement they seem to feel. Cavs fans feel they are entitled to a championship. Indie rock fans felt they were entitled to see a reunited Guided By Voices from a black jack table. From where does that entitlement come? Does anyone really need these things?
The only thing I can come up with is that fans feel they deserve to be paid for their loyalty, their patronage. Would LeBron James or Matador be where they are without their fans? Maybe. Maybe not. They are both among the best at what they do. Something tells me they can find more fans. The fact is neither LeBron James nor Matador Records owe anyone anything. Sure, it would have been nice if LeBron had stayed in Cleveland and somehow won a championship on 31-year-old knees only to never walk again12. And it would have been really sweet if I had scored tickets to that Matador thing. The fact is that neither thing worked out. They were both disappointments, but that’s it.
There’s a certain amount of blind faith that is involved in fanaticism which allows people to feel they are entitled to a little payback. However, just because you love LeBron James or Stephen Malkmus doesn’t mean you are entitled to their eternal servitude. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re lucky James played seven seasons in Cleveland13. We’re lucky Malk decided to reunite Pavement14 for one last go. No one is entitled to these things.
In conclusion (because I feel this post rambling out of control), most of this disappointment could be held in check if folks had tempered their fanaticism. Fans are not entitled to anything more than what’s offered. If a band tours through your town and you’re able to go, great! If your favorite athlete chooses to sign with your hometown team and delivers a championship, fantastic! However, you are not entitled to these things. After all, it is just entertainment.
I feel lucky that LeBron James, may be the most famous person from my home state, played some pretty amazing basketball for a team in said state. I feel lucky that I have seen many of the bands in their prime that are set to play Matador’s celebration. Sure, I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out the way I would have liked, but that’s OK. There will be other athletic triumphs to enjoy and concerts to attend. I might be disappointed, but the only thing I’m entitled to do is move on.
1Yes, this is not my current home state. However, when you lived the first 30 years in a place and have a tattoo to prove it, it is forever your home state.
2They tried to build a winner, but the problem is that the Cavs were built to win this year and they failed.
3I am not a fan of such team names as Heat, Magic, and the like. Really? There’s not some endangered species or terrible cultural stereotype from which you could mine your next mascot name?
4Comic Sans is a crime against humanity.
5That’s what footnotes are for! Let’s see, there’s The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Burning River, The Game Seven, The Sweep, The Manny Ramirez, and now The Decision.
6Hate U, racist Chief Wahoo!
7Well, the adoration would last a while. He’d still have to win a championship, but one championship goes a long way in Cleveland.
8Who was, at one time, an 18-year-old kid in the NBA promising the same things. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust the 18-25 version of myself for anything.
9Which, from what I understand, was largely unclaimed after the online allotment went on sale. And the only reason Vegas was given so many tickets was because they whined about the lack of opportunity they had to score said tickets.
102,100 people to be exact.
11There was some confusion in the online ticketing system that caused some ticket-buyers to purchase more tickets and hotel rooms than they needed. For example, some people purchased four sets of four tickets and a room for four people. That’s sixteen tickets and four rooms for four people. There were some extra tickets for sale on Saturday, but I had had enough disappointment for one week.
12I suspect if James makes it to his 31-year-old bad knee self, he won’t be winning a trophy with any team.
13It should be noted that it may have been the most amazing first seven years of any NBA career in the history of the league. The kid is pretty impressive to watch.
14It probably wasn’t just up to SM, but had he said “no” there would have been no reunion.