In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: In celebration of his new solo LP, we pick songs by Stephen Malkmus.
The bill went Sonic Youth, some other band, Pain Teens.
As budding counter-culturists, we were all fans of Sonic Youth and had dutifully purchased the band’s new album, Dirty, upon its release that summer. When the Pretty Fucking Dirty Tour came to Houston that September via a supermarket-turned-venue called The Unicorn, we bought tickets immediately. Opening the show was a beloved local institution called Pain Teens, whose singer, Bliss Blood, tolerated us during her shifts at our go-to record store. But the middle band we’d never heard of. It had an album out, though, so one of my friends picked the CD up before the show.
Slanted And Enchanted perplexed us, in a good way, and so did Pavement that night. For some reason the band had a drummer and a percussionist, even though the drumming in the songs could charitably be called “spare.” The songs all seemed rather ramshackle, but that was also clearly part of their charm (and it was more enjoyable than watching Sonic Youth play interminable, squealing feedback, as it did later).
Within a year or two, I’d sold my copy of Dirty, but Slanted And Enchanted never left my collection. I’d listen to “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite At :17” over and over as I drove around, singing along loudly to lyrics whose meaning I couldn’t quite grasp. I’d come to understand that as typical Stephen Malkmus inscrutability, but “Trigger Cut” had a few seemingly straight-forward lines that resonated with my 16-year-old self, particularly, “I learned the truth, the truth of the words / Truth I made for you, because it’s just as good.” Ditto “Ex-magician who still knows his tricks / Tricks are everything to me,” a line I identified with for reasons that still escape me. I probably just liked how they sounded.
Twenty years later, the band none of us knew now stands out most on that bill. (It happened at the same venue the year before, when I saw an unknown act called Pearl Jam open for the Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers.) Pavement was still a young band, and I wouldn’t see it again until it was an elder statesman, on a reunion tour at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2010. By then, all the perplexities of Pavement had long since become part of the fabric of indie rock. Pavement would tighten up and streamline after I saw it at The Unicorn, but “Trigger Cut” and its jammy coda mark a time before the band had figured anything out.