SYNDICATE
Posted by: Dave on August 27, 2001 at 12:31 am

When a seminal band breaks up, it’s rare that its subsequent solo projects and offshoots will stack up to the original magic. But in the wake of smart-assed, indie darling Pavement’s demise, we now have two top-notch outlets for our cerebral, slacker fix. This February, Stephen Malkmus (Pavement co-founder, lead vocalist and chief songwriter) struck first with his self-titled solo debut. The album picked up where his former band’s swan song Terror Twilight – which was practically a Malkmus solo project anyway – left off. Slicker production and instantly accessible songs made the Pavement finale an anomaly from the rest of the band’s work and foreshadowed Malkmus’ new direction. Six months later, the band’s other co-founder Spiral Stairs (aka Scott Kannberg) returns with Preston School of Industry to restore much of Pavement’s original sound and prove he can handle all the songwriting himself.

All This Sounds Gas won’t necessarily grab you right off the bat. Except for the happy-go-lucky Cure/New Order guitar jangle of “Falling Away” and the head-bopping, Sundays-meets-REM bounce of “The Idea of Fires,” few songs have instant pop appeal. But upon hearing Stairs’ laid-back vocals repeatedly melt into sun-drenched guitar swirls, you’ll be reeled in further and further with each listen as the album’s intricacies gradually reveal themselves.

Malkmus’ trademark, oddball, stream-of-consciousness musings aren’t part of Stairs’ repertoire, instead he gives you plenty to ponder with his imaginative marriages of musical styles. In “A Treasure at Silver Bank,” a lazy horse-walking rhythm, twangy pedal steel and a Spaghetti Western background choir drive the verses to meet a tumbling organ under a romantic, Brit-pop hook. Less daring, but nearly as effective in the alternative-country department is the homecoming-style reflection “Monkey Heart and the Horses’ Leg.” Much heavier are the brooding seven-and-a-half-minute odyssey “Encyclopedic Knowledge of” and the sinister, Metal-riff-laden “History of the River.” Every track on the album is dense with layers of divergent sounds, but they rarely feel overbearing thanks to the band’s effortless delivery.

Long-time Pavement fans who felt the band’s sound and Malkmus’ latest work had become a little too clean and commercial will find refuge in Preston School of Industry. It’s OK to fully embrace both All This Sounds Gas and “Stephen Malkmus,” though. We’re lucky to have two strong Pavement-esque albums come out in the same year.

– Dave Powers
(As posted 8/27/01 on 3wk.com)



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