Stephen Malkmus Names 5 of the Most Important Albums from His Career

Stephen Malkmus
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'Slanted and Enchanted' – Pavement (1992)

Slanted and Enchanted was like our coming out party. We could finally tell our parents, ‘Mom, I’m in a band and it’s going to be okay.’ [laughs] I was living in Brooklyn, or maybe Jersey City, and I went back home to Stockton, California, for Christmas break, and I just kind of bashed out the songs. 

I brought it back to New York and played it for the guys, and they were like, ‘This is really good, Steve. Good job!’ Pavement had done some EPs and gotten some good attention from the fanzine community, but this was the start of the band as a business proposition. 

“Matador put it out, and the record became a bit of a cult hit. The band was still sort of cryptic. We had fake names, and we hadn’t really played any concerts, maybe just a couple of shows. But I’m grateful that people liked it. It saved my life from working in bars.”

'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' – Pavement (1994)

“This is an important album, both for my creativity and economic livelihood. We put a lot of effort into sounds and tones and layering things with different types of instruments, and I really had time to experiment with different amps and guitars. 

“I wanted to make an album that was different from Slanted and Enchanted, which had touchstone bands like the Fall and the Pixies, and indie rock in general. So I had some different signifiers. Like the first song, ‘Silence Kid’ – I was thinking of Free’s ‘All Right Now,’ and there’s a Buddy Holly sound to it, too.

“Then there’s a song influenced by Can, and a kind of creepy lounge song called ‘Newark Wilder.’ There’s Eagles country rock, which is just a wider, primarily Americana-influenced range of sounds, and there’s a grunge song, ‘Unfair,’ which is us trying to write a Nirvana-style song. It’s definitely of our era.”

Self-titled – Stephen Malkmus (2001)

“After 10 years, countless tours, many artistic highs, and probably some lows, Pavement called it quits on the eve of 2000. It just seemed like we had done so much stuff, and I wasn’t sure we were going to achieve anything more artistically. And I was really tired. So that ended. And then I found myself moving to Portland, and it was, Okay, what am I going to do? 

“I met some of the people in the scene, and I decided to make an album. I chose to make it a mix of some of the harder rock that I was starting to get into, which was bands like the Groundhogs, and, I guess you could say, blues rock – which actually doesn’t come across now. 

“I also wanted to have some kitschy keyboards and really bad-sounding things that I thought would have sort of a trashy, cheap-and-cheerful vibe. I wanted to do something upbeat and fun and playful. And that’s what I did.”

'Sparkle Hard' – Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (2018)

“We did this one at the same studio in Portland where we did Traditional Techniques. It’s the last album I’ve made with the Jicks thus far. I would say it’s in the realm of [2011’s] Mirror Traffic and [2014’s] epically titled Wig Out at Jagbags – electric songwriter music with a couple of outbursts of guitar heroics and fuzz. 

“And there are a couple of notable things here. It has some string arrangements on a song called ‘Solid Silk,’ and there are some spots where I tried to play wah without it sounding like I have bell-bottoms on. 

“I use it more as a percussive thing. And I also messed with Auto-Tune on a couple of songs, too. We’ll see how that ages. I think one of the songs is aging well and the other is not.”

'Groove Denied' – Stephen Malkmus (2019)

“For the Guitar Player magazine listener, this might not be the place to start if you’re looking for my version of, you know, guitar shredding. [laughs] There are a couple of proto-garage-rock songs on there, but it’s an album that was more about recording in a digital-audio workstation environment. 

“I was writing with keyboards, and I have this old Memorymoog that I always wanted to feature a little bit more. It’s was like, imagine a dude like me, who’s had some success with old-school boomer-style recording, gets locked in a room with these instruments, and this is what he comes up with. 

“It’s also based on some other music that I’ve always liked, which is not only post-punk from the ’80s and Joy Division–style stuff but also more modern Vaporwave and things like that.”

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.