The music landscape was so much different in 1992. That was 30 years ago, before the rise of the internet and the fall of MTV as a tastemaker. I was not listening to music in the moment, certainly not anything modern. I only gleaned whatever classic rock my dad was listening to. I have, in the intervening years, gone back and listened to some music of 1992, and while I was not in the zeitgeist at the time, I have pieced together what was burgeoning in the music landscape at the time.
This was a time when No Doubt was debuting and Kriss Kross was an ongoing concern. The Lemonheads released It’s a Shame about Ray, and R.E.M. dropped Automatic for the People. In the end, though, there was only one album I was ever going to write about here. That’s Pavement’s debut Slanted and Enchanted.
Look, Pavement is my favorite band. This is not self-indulgent, though. Pavement were indie rock luminaries in the 1990s. They are one of the quintessential bands of that genre of that era. This was their first full-length album, which makes it monumental in a way. I’m not the only one that feels that way. It’s considered one of the best albums of all time, not just in the genre. In 2020, Rolling Stone placed it 199th on their list of the top albums ever. Pitchfork called it the fifth-best album of the ‘90s. I’m not the only one that digs this album to its core.
While Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is my favorite Pavement album, Slanted and Enchanted ranks second. It’s a great album. It’s also the only Pavement album that sounds like this. The band, at this point, was just Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, and erratic drummer/producer Gary Young. Young was booted from the band after this album, and they added bass player Mark Ibold and percussionist Bob Nastanovich. Pavement would never sound like this again, but man did they ever sound amazing.
Slanted and Enchanted is quintessential slacker lo-fi. The lyrics often feel improvised, and sometimes that was true. Pavement songs are built around how lyrics sound, not what they convey. Malkmus and company were influenced by bands like The Fall, and many of the songs aren’t built around hooks. Yes, there are songs like “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” and “Here,” but there’s also “Two States” and “Fame Throwa” and songs like that. It’s slapdash, but it’s also immaculate.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is more “musical.” It’s more refined and lush. Slanted and Enchanted feels like a few dudes riffing and jamming and being better at it than anybody who came before them. This album is perhaps more influenced than influential, but it’s still killer. It connects eras. It defined an era. Slanted and Enchanted is a true indie classic. And that makes this viable music criticism and not self-indulgence.