Late Saturday night, a couple of weeks ago: my brother's in from out of town, and he's flipping through my iPod. We've always had vastly different ears for music, though we passed plenty back and forth through the years; he's looking, but he isn't seeing much he's in the mood for. Still, keeping a folk blog means finding commonality in strange places. As in:
"Wait, how many folk covers of Pavement could there be?"
Just enough, man. Just enough.
I dropped out of college in 1992, just around the time mid-nineties alt-rockers Pavement were hitting the ground running. My post-adolescent rejection of radio as a primary source for music immediately precedes Pavement's mid-nineties heyday as minor indie alt-rock radio gods. And I just plumb never discovered their earliest work as a fuzzed-out post punk group.
Okay, I'm old. But I'm not too old to recognize that, to a particular generation just out of my reach, Pavement's indiefolk cred is impeccable. That's partially because Pavement's sound is so prototypical of its time, able to represent fully a particular sound in an otherwise dried-up musicial historical moment. It's also because Pavement is considered by many to be the first truly indie modern rock band, the ones who showed the rest of the world it was possible to make it that big without the benefit of major label promotion and corporate backing.
It is this folk politic, plus the unique timing of their fame and significance, which makes Pavement worth knowing. And it is this curiously narrow window of time which has brought a certain next-gen group of blog-favored musicians to just begin covering Pavement songs, almost always with reverence and a certain glee, a nod and a wink between indie listener and ripening singer-songwriters paying tribute to their past.
These covers tend to be pretty diverse. Pavement's sound drifted significantly through their short career; finding its way from post punk through an almost classic early nineties alt-rock sound to 1995 release Wowee Zowee, which would turn heads later, but was a bit too eclectic to catch fire at the time of its release. By the time the band broke up just before the turn of the century, their sound had passed through its college-rock stage to become something both more experimental and more melodic. Along the way, they picked up a small generation of pre-indie fans -- one reason why, today, bloggers and musicians of a certain age need no introduction.
There's not that much in the way of pure folk covers of Pavement, though there's certainly plenty in the non-folk indie world, as befits the band's proto-indie status. But we aim for quality, not quantity, here on Cover Lay Down, and the following songs are the cream of a very recent indiefolk crop.
A short Friday set, then, just enough to turn you on: scratch-voiced blogfave Cat Power, the pianopop of still-rising youngster Casey Dienel, and two acoustic covers of Spit on a Stranger -- Nickel Creek's sweet newgrass version, and a slower, more mystical take by UK alt-folkstar Kathryn Williams. I'm older than all of them, I think. Plus bonus tracks to follow, as always.
- Kathryn Williams, Spit on a Stranger
- Nickel Creek, Spit on a Stranger
(from This Side)
- Cat Power, We Dance
(live radio broadcast; available here)
- Casey Dienel, Cut Your Hair
(from Daytrotter Sessions, June 2006)
Want to hear more Pavement? Start with Hype Machine; though Pavement is no more, and half the guys who started it have day jobs, these days founder and core member Stephen Malkmus is a darling of the indie world.
Once you get hooked, pick up the diverse collected works of Pavement over at Matador Records (Also Cat Power's label). Folk fans who like a little alt-rock in the mix might start with Terror Twilight, their final album. The new CD by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is pretty sweet, too.
Bonus tracks? Sure, they're on the playlist, too. Here's a few recent Malkmus-does-Dylan cuts from the I'm Not There soundtrack, to give you a sense of his more recent sound.
- Stephen Malkmus and the Million Dollar Bashers, Maggie's Farm (orig. Dylan)
- Stephen Malkmus and the Million Dollar Bashers, Ballad of a Thin Man (ibid.)
And, just for fun, something lo-fi and grungy and feedback-y from near the end of Pavement's career, after they had moved on past traditional song structure, before they started turning into a Stephen Malkmus project. It's totally not folk, but most definitely a Pavement cover you'll love if you're of a certain Schoolhouse Rock age.
- Pavement, No More Kings (orig. Lynne Ahrens / Schoolhouse Rock)