SM and Pavement: Album Cover Retrospective

With the new Stephen Malkmus & Jicks album set to drop any day now, we thought we’d take a look at the history of SM’s ouvre via his past album covers.

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Slanted and Enchanted (1992): Pavement’s first full length defines the so-called lo-fi indie rock sound: scrawling guitars that went to school on Sonic Youth’s Sister, ramshackle percussion (courtesy of original crazy-ass Gary Young), cryptic lyrics, and toneless melodies. The first album also sets the template for the Pavement aesthetic: notebook graffiti, polysemous symbols, postpunk DIY collage work, and lots of scribbling. Key tracks: “Summer Babe,” “In the Mouth a Desert,” “Trigger Cut.”

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Westing by Musket and Sextant (1993): The first Pavement record I bought. On tape! From Camelot Music. Because they didn’t have Slanted and Enchanted. The DIY cover is riddled with seemingly cryptic messages that are actually references to songs and albums that Pavement liked (e.g. “Maps and Legends” by REM). Westing takes the DIY look of Slanted to the next level, and helps to inform not just the way Pavement albums and singles will look for the next few years, but also seems to codify the indie rock look in general (see also: Sebadoh). Key tracks: “Box Elder,” “Forklift,” “Debris Slide.”

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Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994): This is the first album I remember anticipating coming out. “Luck on every finger”–more cryptology. Was the second song called “Ell Ess Two” or “Elevate Me Later,” or maybe it was “LS2”? Is that SM’s handwriting? An album about rock music. It didn’t leave my CD player for the next three years, and that is no exaggeration. Key tracks: The whole album is perfect. “Gold Soundz” works on any mixtape if you’re in a pinch though. My favorite track might be “Stop Breathin’,” which I think is about the Civil War. For years I thought that Pavement included the only bad track on Crooked Rain, “Hit the Plane Down,” as a kind of purposeful marring, like ancient artisans who included a flaw in their art so as not to displease the gods. Later I just realized that that was the Spiral Staircase track.
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