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Preston School of Industry - Monsoon

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Artist: Preston School of Industry

Album: Monsoon

Label: Matador

Review date: Mar. 22, 2004

What afflicts Monsoon more than anything else is history. Scott Kannenberg, or Spiral Stairs, or one third of the songwriting duo that, with Stephen Malkmus, made up Pavement in its glory days, will probably never be able to break free of the Pavement legacy, and though this sort of thing is old news in the politics of the rock world, so much the worse for him. Cut off from all contextual consideration, his second solo-ish album as Preston School of Industry is relatively pleasant; it's not really very interesting, bold or exciting, but neither is it ever objectionable. But when you think about Pavement (which you do, and which you would even if the album didn't sound enough like Kannenberg's Pavement songs to remind you to think about Pavement), expectations rise. Context surrounds everything. Monsoon begins to sound all the worse for its conspicuous lack of the things that made Pavement exciting: unpredictability, irony, carelessness, fun.

Which is not to say that it's impossible to enjoy the album at points. My own listening experience is relatively unfettered by expectations and comparisons because I never grew up with Pavement, and I rather enjoy some of the songs. "The Furnace Sun" and "Caught in the Rain" mosey along with a pleasant country-style persistence (this is also because I happen to be a sucker for pedal steel, anywhere, anytime), while "Escalation Breeds Escalation" has a nice folksy vibe to it; "Caught in the Rain" sounds closest to the better (louder) of the songs on Preston's debut, All This Sounds Gas. They're not breathtaking, but they'd make fair mix-tape fodder.

But elsewhere lie incriminating signs that certain things are mere shadows of the way they were in the mid-90s. It's as if Kannenberg is trying his best to capture the messy spirit of his old band when deep down he wants things to be orderly. He talks more than he sings, but without Malkmus's charm; there are vague swipes at playful nonsense/misspelling ("Walk of a Gurl," "Her Estuary Twang"), but his lyrics are by and large straightforward and topical. "Line It Up" sounds like a fainthearted attempt to reprise the sprawl of Slanted and Enchanted. He even enlists Wilco (masters of a different sort of mess) for "Get Your Crayons Out!" toward the end of the album, but with sadly forgettable results.

Monsoon has other faults, too. At once less contextual and more forgiveable, most songs are a bit long and repetitive, and the album as a whole (especially the middle) runs together into one indistinguishable dollop of mellow. But the biggest problem I can imagine having with it is that of knowing better. ("The milk is fine, by why settle when the cow was reissued with bonus tracks in late 2002?") The pall of the past does not preclude enjoyment for people with a rudimentary knowledge of Pavement, but, fair or not, it takes something away from songs which might somehow have been totally acceptable from a newcomer.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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