Rock EPs from the Nineties (Pavement, Ride, Slint, Luna, Yo La Tengo)

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Pavement – Major Leagues (1999) – C+

Whether or not Stephen Malkmus likes it, “Major Leagues” is one of the three best songs from Pavement’s worst album (the other two being “Spit on a Stranger” and “The Hexx”) even if it doesn’t sound like the band. I’ve come to dislike “You kiss like a rock / But you know I need it anyway” (the most Pavement-y thing about it) as I’ve grown older, but the tune remains strong, to say nothing of how Malkmus runs through the last line of the verse and bounds into the chorus—it sounds like he’s running down a hill with his arms outstretched, but he’s ready for the inevitable fall, whether it’s physical or emotional. The edit does away with some of the Nigel Godrich added doodads, which is only a good thing since they were really superficial. The rest of this EP ain’t much: a clumsier demo version of the main attraction with awful keyboards; previously unreleased tracks that were recorded with Gary Young (an interesting but ultimately formless “Your Time to Change”; Malkmus speaking his way in French through “Decouvert de soleil” whose keyboard line is less awful, but is also the only notable thing about it); a cover of “The Classical” that seems like a wink at detractors from the band who kept comparing them to the Fall even when they moved far and away beyond that (put it this way: no cover of “The Classical” should omit the key line, and no band should attempt a cover because they’ll never get that key line right). Which leaves one cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” which still isn’t worth recommending this for anyone who isn’t a fan.

Ride – Ride (1990) – B

“Drive Blind” is good: the ringing, pinched guitar against the easy hook, with a revolving door of sounds of cowbell and then the left-channel throb and guitar groan (that both come in around the 2-minute mark) and then the Sonic Youth-ish breakdown for a bridge. (Then it unfortunately drones on for another 2 minutes.) I just played the other three songs three times each and couldn’t tell you a thing about them except “Chelsea Girl” has some high-speed drumming and Ian Brown impersonations for vocals, and all of the songs have something to do with sight in their title.

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Slint – Slint (1994) – B

(Recorded) half-way between Tweez and Spiderland, this is still doing the thing of naming tracks after imaginary people to lend them emotional weight and Steve Albini’s still at the helm (you tell by the distinctive drum sound), but they’re experimenting with push-pull tension over longer tracks that was the case on Spiderland. Both are good, but neither are good enough to recommend going out of your way to get them, but with a band whose discography is as succinct and as fetishized as this one, you’ll land here regardless; I personally think one of the most interesting parts of Spiderland was the vocals in tandem with said tension: “I said good-bye to the ground”, “Don stepped outside”, “’Let me in,’ the voice cried softly”, “I’ve grown taller now.” “Glenn” has this effect added to the guitar starting at the 1:37 mark that can almost be accused as cheesy but results in a guttural note; “Rhoda” is nauseatingly (a good thing) heavier, and the count-in that leads into an even heavier section is something to behold at least once. And as usual for everything they’ve released, the best part of the package is the (ambiguous) black-and-white cover.

Luna – Bonnie and Clyde / Chinatown (1995) – B

Taking the bookends and some of the better songs from Penthouse (on “Chinatown,” dig what Stanley Demeski does after the second chorus and marvel at how that chorus works regardless (or because of?) the rhyme), and pads it out with Galaxie 500/Luna-fied takes on Talking Heads’ “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” (also available on the Luna EP one year later) and a more drawn-out version of “Bonnie and Clyde” but without the menacing screams. It’s nice and adds nothing, which I guess you could say about a lot of other Luna songs.

Yo La Tengo – Camp Yo La Tengo (1995) – B

There’s a single version of this EP that just contains the first two songs, a shorter “(Thin)” version of the closer from Electr-O-Pura and an acoustic version of noise-pop gem “Tom Courtenay.” Both are worth your time if only because Georgia Hubley was one of the most charming female singers of ever (how she stretches the pronouns in the former). But not essential: she tries to nudge the momentum of “Tom Courtenay” along with the insistent beat, but the song doesn’t have anywhere to go once it hits the mid-line; the “ba-ba” hook that they loved to do is deployed too late on this one. But the EP ain’t an improvement on the single despite the addition of two tracks, a cover of the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” and a 9-minute instrumental that are excuses for Ira Kaplan to dick around on his guitar. (Plus the wholly unsexy moans on the former!)

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