Writer, editor, professor, etc. For more information, see jaygabler.com.
I’m only on #5 of Pitchfork’s top albums of the 90s list, but I think I get it. Pitchfork likes things that are dense and challenging and elliptical and self-conscious. Critics.
In my original post bashing the 90s, I wrote that “the decade was at best a time of fruitful transition.” 11 albums into my revisiting of 90s music, the decade still feels kind of squeezed in between the vibrant 80s and the excitingly diverse 00s. The economy was booming—why wasn’t anyone happy? It was the halcyon decade for Generation X, who were the cool older kids when I was growing up: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Matt Dillon, and, yes, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus (born 1966).
I was born at a weird generational cusp: old enough that I didn’t have an e-mail address until college, but 5-10 years behind the Gen-X zeitgeist. Other people born in 1975—the few and the proud children of the Ford Administration—include Big Boi, Drew Barrymore, Zach Braff, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, and Zadie Smith. The Bee Gees were big in 1975…can we be the Disco Babies?
In theory, I like the idea of being a member of a generation who don’t give a shit and just sit around in coffeehouses complaining—it’s a lot less pressure than having to be in, say, the Greatest Generation—but I like my music to be a little less aimless than this.
As someone who’s only dipped a toe into Pavement over the past 20 years, I was surprised at how listenable their 1992 debut is—steeped though it is in classic 90s feedback nausea—but I had a hard time getting particularly excited by it. It’s often tuneful, but it’s no London Calling. It’s often angry, but it’s no Never Mind the Bollocks. Malkmus sings like he’s lying on a couch, improvising the lyrics and melodies as he goes. His voice is buried in the mix, so even when he gets worked up and shouts, he’s buried in guitar fuzz. When hooks appear—like the glam riff that powers “Two States”—they stumble rather than strut.
The album sounds quintessentially stuck between stations, which for Pitchfork’s William Bowers is its cardinal virtue: “The crenellated toss-offs on this disc blended intense love for noise with unorthodox pop instincts, answering Achtung Baby with slack-toned gravy, and saunter-stumbled into rock history with a graffiti ethic that denies the listener a murkless horizon.”
Indeed, it’s music for people with murky views in all directions. Bowers praises the way Slanted made meaninglessness anthemic, but the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra” (1979) proved that you could do that—with authentic Dada source material, no less—and make it sound a hell of a lot more fun than this. I don’t hate this album, but the fact that this is what I’m supposed to love about the 90s is why I hate the 90s.
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