Rhythm & Views

Preston School of Industry

It's often difficult to remember that Scott Kannberg was once officially half of Pavement, one of the finest and most influential smart(y-pants) rock bands of the '90s ('89 to '00, to be exact). Kannberg--or, if you prefer, Spiral Stairs, his nom de musique--was gradually reduced to playing second fiddle to fellow singer/guitarist/songwriter Stephen Malkmus, until the band's final album, 1999's Terror Twilight (on Matador, as are all the band's full-length releases, save an odds 'n' sods collection on Drag City), which included not a single Kannberg contribution; his compositions were, instead, relegated to b-side status by Malkmus, who had finally completely edged his way into "de facto" bandleader. Pity Kannberg, though, as he was competing with one of the most literate and tuneful songwriters of the decade in Malkmus. Still, Kannberg was no slouch himself, having written a handful of old reliables from the Pavement canon, "Forklift" and "Two States," from the band's groundbreaking debut LP, Slanted and Enchanted ('92), among them. Then again, he wrote "Hit the Plane Down," too.

In the beginning, though, things were different. In the beginning, Pavement was two buddies on equal footing, screwing around in a garage studio, who just happened to create a self-released seven-inch single that got into the right hands, influential British DJ John Peel among them. Pavement became a highly accidental and successful career in pretty short order.

But success breeds egos, which get both large and bruised, even in the self-righteous world of indie-rock, and rumor has it there was no love lost between the two songwriters when Pavement finally, quietly, cryptically (as was its way all along, from the shadowy monikers to the self-perpetuated rumors that the band had gotten in a brawl with the cast of 90210) disbanded.

Last year bore the first wave of solo records from both, with Malkmus releasing an eponymous album under his actual name (albeit with the Jicks, his backing band), and Kannberg opting for Preston School of Industry (named after a reform school once attended by Merle Haggard), which debuted with All This Sounds Gas (both were released on Matador). A perusal of Kannberg's bio sheet lets you know that, while he's extremely proud of what he did in Pavement (the press kit is quick to point out that, after recording Pavement's debut single, Malkmus, who is cheekily referred to throughout only as Kannberg's unnamed "childhood friend," "[mysteriously] disappears with backpack into post-graduation Europe, [while] Scott toils half-heartedly" at a local record store and selflessly works to distribute the 7-inch), he's also eager to leave it all behind.

Where Malkmus' solo album basically streamlined his approach to the crooked pop song, highlighting the narrative instead of making it obtuse (for which he was often criticized in Pavement), Kannberg leaves in all the sonic weirdness that was a part of Pavement's allure from the get-go. Both are exceptional guitarists, always forsaking technique and accuracy for tastefulness and passion (indeed, it was often difficult to recognize which guitarist--Kannberg or Malkmus--was playing what until one saw them perform live), and the torch of the "Pavement sound" is well intact in Kannberg's hands. And while it may be true that no one ever bought a post-Slanted Pavement album for the Spiral Stairs songs, All This Sounds Gas comes off like a compilation of lost Pavement-era Kannberg songs, save album-closing epic "Take a Stand," which clocks in at a cool 8:17, and puts Lennon-esque reverb on the vocals, which are backed by a grandiose orchestral pop arrangement and sha-la-la-la's straight from heaven.

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