Certain Songs #1480: Pavement – “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite At :17”

Album: Slanted and Enchanted
Year: 1992

Electricity . . . . and lust!

That said, if I was forced at gunpoint — and please don’t, mmm-kay? — to choose my favorite song from Slanted and Enchanted it would absolutely be “Trigger Cut,” which is stuffed with wall-to-all hooks, and remains endlessly surprising even all these years later.

It was also kind of confusing to me — often my default mode when first encountering any new Pavement material — because to this day, that whole “Wounded Kite At :17” makes so little sense that it’s probably a joke that even Stephen Malkmus probably doesn’t remember the origin of. I mean, there is a little instrumental doo-dad tacked onto the end of the song, and it might be called “Wounded Kite,” why not? But it’s of course at 2:49, not :17.

And all of this, of course, betrays the R.E.M. influence that burbled underneath Pavement’s music — both Murmur and Reckoning had little instrumental doo-dads that linked songs — which at this point only showed up in the cryptic lyrics and strong melodies, but as good indie kids, adding some weirdness and confusion to a such a pretty song was a way of telling all the right people that “hey, we don’t want to be that big?”

All of which seemed silly to me then and probably incomprehensible to anybody who didn’t live through the post-Nevermind freakout we all had.

For me, in the awful summer of 1992, “Trigger Cut” was probably the song that led me into the rest of the record, fulfilling the crucial spot of any second song on a great debut album — assuring the listener that the opening track was no fluke. And, if anything, “Trigger Cut” expanded on the promise of “Summer Babe” from the opening verse, which built up over churning guitars and a real beat, and as a bonus which even almost made sense!

Lies and betrayals
Fruit-covered nails
Electricity … and lust!
Won’t break the door

The way Malkmus sings “Eeeee-lectricity . . . and lust!” would literally be enough for me, but that’s just the first, because right after that the rest of the verse somehow gets even better, as Malkmus continues with a candy-coated melody and empathetic singing for the rest of the verse and the call-and-response chorus.

I’ve got a heavy coat
It’s filled with rocks and sand
And if I lose it
I’ll be coming back today
(I’ve got a message for you)
I’ll be coming back today
(I keep it in my hand)
You know I’m coming back one day
(I’ve got a system for two)
And I’ll be coming back today

I’m probably ascribing too much to a single song, and it can probably be ascribed to Slanted and Enchanted as a whole, but it sure feels like that ever single time anybody heard this song, they decided to form their own skewed-guitars indie rock band. It feels that primal, that elemental to me.

“Trigger Cut” was already perfect before it went into the second verse, but after the second chorus, it somehow topped itself, because where you’d normally assume the crazy-ass guitar solo would come and knock the piss out of the song, instead, Malkmus switches into a falsetto and sings the following:

Sha-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

What’s awesome here is that you can see the entire Malkmus paradox in a microcosm: a ridiculously smart person who loves dumb-ass rock and roll. So while his lyrics were often obtuse and abstract, his melodies were equally as often straightforward and lovely, and he completely understood when and how to apply nonsense syllables as hooks, and the churning noisy guitars added an extra layer of noise and melody to the mix.

That tension also kept the songs interesting: you never quite knew what was going to happen next, and quite often what happened next was a complete surprise, thus my delight at him “Sha-la-laing” like Van Morrison instead of skronking like Thurston Moore. Most of the rest of the Pavement songs I’m writing about will have those moments of utter gobsmackery.

“Trigger Cut”

“Trigger Cut” live in Germany, 1994

“Trigger Cut” Live in Roskilde, 2010

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One Response to “Certain Songs #1480: Pavement – “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite At :17””

  1. Larry says:

    I have heard Slanted and Enchanted approximately 1000 times and it sounds fresh after reading what you’ve written.

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