Preston School of Industry
All This Sounds Gas
It would seem to be inevitable to discuss the first release from Spiral Stairs, cofounder of the late, great indie band Pavement, without mentioning a comparison with his former bandmate, Stephen Malkmus. Similar to Stephen Malkmus’s self-titled release earlier in the year, the first release by Preston School of Industry is only a slight revision of the sound that was so successful in Pavement. I suppose whereas Malkmus used the breakup to write “proper” pop songs with a more coherent narrative structure and a subsequent streamlining of the sound, PSOI plunges further into the cryptic lyrics and sonic exploration that marked earlier Pavement work. Even if Stephen Malkmus insists that he prefers Pavement’s Wowee Zowee as their finest work, PSOI has come closest to capturing the schizophrenic character that marked that album.
The opening track, “Whalebones,” could have been a Pavement outtake from one of their latter albums. Opening with the sliding riffs and tones that when you hear, you can instantly identify it as a Pavement song. It has all the ingredients of classic Pavement, save for a goofy conga or cowbell being struck. But the second track, “Falling Away,” sounds like a New Order outtake, or like PSOI has stolen a bass line from some forgotten Cure single. The third track, “A Treasure @ Silver Bank (this dynasty’s for real),” has slide guitar and country rock sound. In the background, a Wurlitzer bubbles and percolates while a cheap synthesizer conducts a duet with the plaintive sounds of the slide guitar. But what should be apparent is the cryptic title, a reminder of the legacy of the man who pioneered cryptic song titles.
At its finest, PSOI is a chance for Spiral Stairs to release the songs and indulge the influences that he was forced to keep in check while in Pavement. The songs have vitality and bristle with excitement and enthusiasm even if his lyrics remain largely incomprehensible. Ultimately, this album serves as a potent argument that Stephen Malkmus was the driving force behind Pavement. For those who loved Pavement and miss the clever melodies that are as infectious as they are fractured, your prayers may have just been answered.