Feats of Strength: Pavement

We here at Rust Is Just Right like to analyze and explain the more technical aspects of music, especially with our Feats of Strength feature.  Though we often take the time to praise the intricate and complex nature of many songs, there’s something to be said to the merits of amateurism.  Sometimes, we love the simple things.

Pavement initially built its reputation along these lines, and in their early career they were tagged with the “slacker” identity.  For the most part, this was an unfair and incorrect assessment of their skills as musician.  While Pavement often seemed like they could just effortlessly toss off quirky little rock songs, there was actually a lot of structure and technique inherent in their work.  In other words, it can take a lot of work to sound that casual.

There was one area where the initial impression of Pavement was correct, and that was with their drumming.  This is captured perfectly with the opening track “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” from their classic debut Slanted & Enchanted.  Gary Young’s inexpert style contrasted with the more complicated patterns that were popular at the time; the drumming is filled with lots of space and rarely settles into a groove, and filled with idiosyncratic little fills that always stick out when listening (especially those little hi-hat rolls at the end of each phrase of the verse).  It always seems on the verge of collapse, but it never completely falls apart.

This “shitty” drumming style is different from a “simple” drumming style: we’re not talking about someone playing a basic pattern without any flourishes or nuance, like your standard Pink Floyd or AC/DC track; we’re talking about musicians who the listener might assume are unable to use all four limbs at the same time and keep a regular drumbeat.  “Summer Babe” is a perfect example the latter, and of how shitty drumming actually serves the song.  In this case, it helps maintain a loose feel throughout the song; you hear the same effect with many Tame Impala tracks, where the drumming serves to augment certain melodic ideas, but otherwise steps out of the way and tries not to weigh down the spacey ambiance.  Compare that style to Nine Inch Nails’s “Piggy”, where Trent Reznor’s chaotic drumming at the end of the song gives the sense that the entire song is about to break down; it’s “order” being systematically destroyed.  In fact, Trent handled the drums for the ending personally, because he felt that his more capable drumming partners made it sound too professional.

It’s true that drumming is incredibly important to a song; however, shitty drumming can also serve a purpose as well.

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