Tuesday, September 6, 2022

record collection rock







Not one of those Pete Frame rock family tree jobs, but an "influence map" of Pavement (who are currently gearing up for their 30th Anniversary Tour, jeepers) taken from Perfect Sound Forever, Rob Jovanovic's 2004 book 

Close ups:



















Pavement - along with Saint Etienne, Urge Overkill, Teenage Fan Club and of course Primal Scream - were a key group for me in terms of  formulating the notion of "record collection rock".

For a while there was this regular column in Melody Maker, a page where a musician would run through a list of records significant to them. Stephen Malkmus did one. Alongside the writing (or speaking? ) style and the tone (drily droll and couched in that slacker-ironical mode of the time) what struck me was that Steve seemed to have listened to everything. Every record that had ever come out. So one minute he'd be referencing 999 or some other second-division Brit punk group, the next it would be Sandy Denny or Fairport Convention.. There'd be a passing reference to Nurse With Wound or Nocturnal Emissions or something like that. He'd enthuse about Ege Bamyasi but perhaps some really obscure Krautrock would be cited too.  The piece was erudite - that's the only word for it. 

Thinking about it now, without the piece to hand (I've got it somewhere, in some folder or other), I feel there might actually have been serious gaps in the knowledge. Swathes of not-mentioned-at-all stuff : nothing danceable, electronic, or for that matter, Black.... pop too was absent. And indeed those things are all conspicuously missing from the Influence Map above. 

Still, the overall impression at the time of reading was that here was a chap, still only in his twenties, who had listened to EVERYTHING, had a take on EVERYTHING, and was capable of wresting enjoyment out of the utterly generic or desperately minor as easily as the obviously canonic and alternative-pantheonic. I didn't know at the time that some in Pavement had worked as record clerks, a job that would lend itself to playing anything and everything that came through the store, just for fun and curiosity and to fill time (also to annoy / bemuse the customers). That was one way to acquire a deep education in rock and its tributaries. Another way would be working at the college radio station, with its library of records and the flood of new freebies that would come in back in those days when college radio actually mattered and played a big role in alternative music promotion. 

But as well as vast knowledge, another byproduct of this immersion would be detachment - it's almost inevitably a byproduct of an omnivorous cultural diet. There were still some firm and sweeping opinions. In this piece, or perhaps another similar one, Malkmus opined that "you guys" (meaning the British) had had two great moments - early '70s folk-rock and the late 70s-early-80s postpunk DIY thing. But ultimately, increasingly, one's taste and listening got widened so much that strong allegiances or fanaticisms would not emerge.  

Very like Bob 'n' Pete in Saint Et, in fact - but being American and alt, obviously without the affection for chartpop. 

15 comments:

Tyler said...

Counterpoint - it may be true that omnivorousness breeds detachment, but it also may simply breed a habit of unorthodox connection-making. As you already said, Malkmus had several gaps in his knowledge in retrospect, but I think his influences have a certain kind of logic to them - basically he likes folk rock, hard rock (not metal), and 'art rock' (loosely defined). This seems to have become a little clearer in recent years as his long-unstated-but-often-implied fondness for the Dead and prog have been more explicit, but I do think there's an coherent ethos there and not just crate-digger perversity

Anonymous said...

You're being unfair to Malkmus. First you build up a straw man with "this guy listened to everything", solely in order to knock it down with "serious gaps in the knowledge". You can hardly accuse him of not living up to certain pretensions when those pretensions seem to have existed for a large part in your imagination. Journalist do this all time and it's very annoying.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

wow Pavement fans are thin skinned. it's hardly an attack on Malkmus, just a set of observations - during the course of which my impressions at the time of reading the piece back in 93 or whatever are juxtaposed with my current thoughts. At the time of first reading, I had rarely encountered a sensibility of rock connoisseurship so refined and so widely-listened. In some ways, that has become simply the norm (it's similar to the mindset out of which say Vampire Weekend forged their aesthetic - Ezra Koenig before the group had a blog where he collected "vibes" - everything from obscure music to the history of preppy fashion). But long before Pavement and Saint Etienne, you could see a precursor to this kind of combo of omnivorousness versus filtration = sensibility formation in e.g. the way Orange Juice assembled their sound and their image. Still, it was striking enough to encounter in the early '90s that I came up with phrase "record collection rock". Stereolab would another instance. The fact that I like or love most of the records made from out of this kind of sensibility doesn't prevent me from seeing some downsides to it.

Tyler said...

For the record, I'm neutral on Malkmus/Pavement - just pushing back on your thesis in an entirely non-personal way. I'm sorry the other comment made me clarify that.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Oh I wasn't taking issue with what you said Tyler - always interested in your comments. Yes there's definitely an aesthetic there - the folk rock and DIY/Swell Maps as the two peaks of Brit music was a pretty unusual stance in '93, I don't think the whole rediscovery of British folk, Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, et al had even started then. Although actually I do remember Forced Exposure featuring a couple of reviews of Brit folkish things, or references to I don't know Maddy Prior or somebody like that. But yeah pretty ahead of the game, there, Malkmus.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

As a mapping of British music, it's interesting because of the implicit slight to... well the entire 1980s and early '90s. But also the Sixties (perhaps because just too obvious to be cool?). I wonder if he'd subsequently wander into the zones of post-soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, Caravan etc - is that what you mean by 'prog'?

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

And then funnily enough circumstances led Steve to get turned onto to techno, through living in Berlin for a while, resulting in Groove Denied. I wrote the press biog for that 'Malkmustronica' record - https://reynoldsretro.blogspot.com/2019/04/stephen-malkmus.html - although in retrospect it's still much more Pavement-y than something that would get dropped at Berghain.

Matt M said...

"I didn't know at the time that some in Pavement had worked as record clerks" - this reminds me a bit of the Quentin Tarantino video store clerk narrative. One difference being that Tarantino is more open to the cinematic equivalent of "pop" (low-brow, commercial, genre flicks) than Pavement seem to be. Tarantino himself has also been commercially successful in a way that I don't perceive Pavement as having been.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

yeah i think there is a parallel there. in the video store they always had that TV hanging from the ceiling often above the counter, on with a video playing - probably not the best to way watch films i suppose. whereas music playing in the record store you can soak it up. but the video store clerk presumably can ransack the collection, dub things at home for their own collection, and possibly order up obscurities they fancy see. a free education in film history.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

yeah Tarantino is much more of a trash aesthete. Pavement are intounderground and lo-fi DIY - but whatever the pop equivalent of grind house or blacksploitation or martial arts movies is, I can't see them being into that. that was another thing that was cool about those sort of specialist video stores like Kim's in NYC - they'd have the Stan Brakhage and the No Wave cinema obscurities and foreign art stuff galore but also a lot of horror, action, etc - genuine crap.

Ed said...

Yes! I was thinking about the Tarantino parallel. They are pretty well exact contemporaries in terms of their career break-outs: Reservoir Dogs was released in 1992, the same year as Slanted and Enchanted. If you worked in a video or music store, you could come as close as anyone in those days to internet-style abundance.
But as you say, there are some fundamental differences. What would be the pop equivalents of Tarantino's enthusiasms? Grindhouse = extreme metal, perhaps. Blaxploitation = crunk or booty. All conspicuously absent from Pavement's tastefully curated influence map.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt M said...

I suppose the "record collection rock" band that Tarantino was closest to was Urge Overkill. He used their Neil Diamond cover in Pulp Fiction. And their set of aesthetics/reference points seems much closer to what QT is into.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Snap! Exactly - a marriage made in retro heaven. The dance sequence in Pulp is some kind of retroculture peak - or early peak at any rate.

Matt M said...

Jack Rabbit Slims: "In fact, there was so much interest in the pop culture diner that Disney, who acquired Miramax in 1993 and therefore owned Pulp Fiction, wanted to recreate Jackrabbit Slim’s as an actual restaurant at Disney World in Orlando." https://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/pulp-fiction-la-locations-25/

BTW I had always pegged Pavement as an East Coast band so I was surprised to see that they were formed in California. Not LA tho.