Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pavement. Watery, Domestic EP (Matador, 1992)

"I've got style for miles and miles/ So much style that it's wasting."

There was a period in my youth when, if it it wasn't Pavement, I probably wasn't interested. I fell for these guys quickly and completely, and believed that anything Steven Malkmus and his merry band of over-educated Fall-aping conspirators produced was nothing short of sheer genius. Pavement's music connected with me in a powerful way, satisfying my cravings for instantly engaging melodies with an arch, semi-detached playfulness and smart-assery I thought was incredibly cool. Pavement were the gold standard.

And if someone were to ask me, "What's so effing great about this band, anyway?" I would gently place a finger over their lips and hand them a copy of 1992's Watery, Domestic EP. In eleven minutes and twenty-seven seconds, Pavement wheels out four songs that eloquently express the essence of their style: supremely clever, direct, and compelling lo-fi guitar-guided indierock, with nothing/everything lyrics straight from a comp lit grad seminar. Each one of Watery, Domestic's tracks is Pavement's best song ever, depending on what day I'm listening. It's a stunning release, its brilliance matched only by its brevity.

Watery, Domestic was recorded during the Slanted and Enchanted sessions, and is the last Pavement product to feature the drum work of erratic middle-aged bachelor and early Pavement patron Gary Young. Legend has it that Young initially allowed Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) to record in his studio on the condition that he could play drums. Malkmus and Kannberg agreed, and early Pavement -- to include Watery, Domestic (Young would be history by the time 1993's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain rolled around) -- bears the stamp of Young's slightly unhinged, to-hell-with-it percussive style. And frankly, Young is a key component of early Pavement's magic, his disjointed, impressionist beats matching the cracked mosaic melodies hand in glove.

"Texas Never Whispers" is the first track out of the gate: as a heavily distorted, droning handful of notes gives way to the crystalline primary tune, it's clear that we've got something of substance staring us in the face. A chugging fuzz-tone rhythm spiked here and there with treble-heavy lead stabs, agile, barely-keeping up drums, and a bass line constantly pushing the song where it needs to go. "Frontwards" is up next, hyper-hooky sheets of sonic crunch held in place by a steady-as-she-goes rhythm section and a woozily ringing guitar line. "Into the homes of plastic cones/ Stolen rims, are they alloy or chrome?" asks Malkmus before observing, "Now she's the only one/ Who always inhales/ Paris is stale/ And it's war if we fail." Superior nonsense has never sounded so good.

"Feed Them to the (Linden) Lions" is a crashing ode to high school football, marked by Young's spastic drum rolls and yet another irresistible sing-song vocal line and well-placed six-string freakouts. "Shoot the Singer" is the best song R.E.M. never wrote, a slightly down-in-the-mouth, sharply-drawn chimer with an elastic bass bit and gently rolling guitar parts occasionally overwhelmed by wrenching noise. "Someone took/ In these pants," Malkmus mopes. "Someone painted over paint/ Painted wood." And when it's over, so is the EP. And then you have to listen to it again.

Watery, Domestic is currently out of print, but you can find it used online any number of places (Amazon, etc.), though I can't imaging why anyone would ever give this up. It's also included in the expanded reissue of Slanted and Enchanted, so you can get it that way, too. If you've never heard Pavement before, this EP is an excellent place to start, and demonstrates clearly and succinctly why so many people were so enamored of this band. If you're a Pavement fan, go back and listen to it again today, and be reminded why it once seemed like this group could be creating perfect sounds forever.