Empire State lurking
Above the Highline
W 22nd Street
This is probably my favorite record ever. From the random instruments that open the record, which are actually tricking you by establishing the rhythm and the beat perfectly inside the chaos, to the final chords on the last song, ending with an incomplete sentence, ‘Their throats are filled with-‘. And that’s it. It’s just about perfect. You know how if somebody asks you to name your 5 favorite records or movies on Tuesday, you’ll give a different list than if they asked you the following Friday? But one or two of the records or movies would be on the list on Tuesday, Friday, and the 4th of July, every day, every month, every year. ‘Crooked Rain Crooked Rain’ is like that for me, like Sleater-Kinney’s ‘Dig Me Out’ or Velvet Underground’s ‘Loaded’. This link has an excellent oral history of the making of the record in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC in 1994, and it’s a great, fun read. (via The Oral History Of Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Stereogum)
Twenty years ago this Valentine’s Day, one of the all-time classic indie rock albums was released into the world. Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was a landmark for the band and its genre. Gorgeous yet unkempt, accessible yet insular, graceful yet slipshod, the album played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of Pavement and the face of indie rock going forward.
It is a masterpiece, a record that continues to glimmer with unique brilliance two decades after its release. For Pavement, already an underground sensation thanks to 1992 debut Slanted And Enchanted, this album marked a massive leap in terms of fidelity and style. Sonically, they traded the static-laden home recordings of their early days for studio work with outside engineers. Crooked Rain was hardly a polished record, but it sounded bright and clear compared to what came before it.
But Pavement’s music underwent a substantial makeover on Crooked Rain. The band largely left behind the post-punk framework of Slanted in favor of an easygoing classic rock influence, establishing a template they’d work from for the rest of their storied career.
Although Crooked Rain never climbed above #121 on the U.S. album chart, it was by far the most visible release yet for the young New York label Matador Records, generating radio and MTV airplay for a scene that existed almost completely underground. That’s partially because it boasted the most accessible music to ever emerge from that scene. The songs bursted with undeniable melodies couched in off-kilter delivery, be they vocal hooks tweaked by squawks and whimpers or effortlessly slinky guitar leads that shined and careened like casually waved sparklers. The chorus from lead single “Cut Your Hair” is indicative, pasting the album’s most indelible melody into wordless falsetto mewling. It sounded unlike much of the leading alternative radio staples of the day, but it did reference some of them by name when Malkmus playfully dissed Stone Temple Pilots and the Smashing Pumpkins in the closing bars of the country-tinged “Range Life.” The album-closing guitar epic “Fillmore Jive” declares the end of the rock and roll era and ends on an
KANNBERG: I moved out to New York for about a month. Malkmus lived over in Brooklyn, Mark was in Manhattan at the time, and Bob came to town. So everybody was in different areas. We would just kind of get together every day for a few weeks and meet around noon then record into the wee hours of the night. The mood was really good because we were a touring band and we were young, we were pretty into the whole experience. It was still very new to us, we were still learning how to play our instruments, learning how to record… The mood was cool. Everybody was happy and excited. It was a little weird because of the whole Gary thing, but once we started touring and made the record with Westy we all got over it pretty quick.
MALKMUS: This guy named Tom Surgal, who made a video for Jon Spencer — he was a jazz drummer, older guy in New York who was a friend of Mark Ibold — he would go to every gig. He hung out at the original Knitting Factory a lot. And he was the one who said, “I know this guy Mark Venezia and he’s doing stuff with Bailter Space in this music room, and he’s got great stuff, and it’s really cheap, and he’s a nice guy, and you should just check that out.” We didn’t really know anybody, so I said I’d go see Mark. It was in this music building on 29th between 8th and 9th. There’s multiple studios there, and he worked at — there was also a secondhand gear place there. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was the place where lots of stuff would go through, and [Venezia] lived in there. And Kurt Ralske was right above it — remember that? Ultra Vivid Scene? That guy was in there, too, and had a studio. I think it was more kind of like Saturday Night Live blues-rock bands or just Juilliard wannabe music stuff. I think it was called Downtime, actually. The building was called Downtime. I don’t know if it’s still a music studio place. It was right around the corner from Madison Square Garden.