Pavement is the greatest indie rock band of all time, as far as I'm concerned. But honestly, the reason Pavement was great was because of Malkmus. Preston School of Industry is Pavement?s former first mate Scott Kannberg's (a.k.a. Spiral Stairs) new project. The first PSI album was steeped in mediocrity and he was easily outdone by Malkmus's debut. Last year's "Pig Lib" by Malkmus and the Jicks was a great record, and Kannberg now attempts to one-up his constant rival with this year's "Monsoon." The question is, and always will be, can Kannberg make a great record without the help of Mr. Steven Malkmus?
From the opening country-tinged, pedal steel-laced "The Furnace Sun," the answer to the question is obvious. It's not a bad song by any means, but it's not a great song either. It's just kind of there. It's generic alt-country indie rock. Every hook and every solo is entirely predictable. There's always the throwbacks to the "I'm so stoned I am a monkey" sound Pavement was known for. But that's a problem. I don't want to hear Pavement the Sequel, and if I did, I sure as hell wouldn't be looking for Kannberg to give me what I want. At times he sounds like Sebadoh's Jason Lowenstein or even like Eric Gaffney, but there's nothing about this sound that is his own. It's boring. Sure, you'll tap your foot every once in awhile, but as the record goes on it's increasingly hard to pay attention. I ask myself, "Why do I care about this?" I have a hard time coming up with an answer.
"Caught in the Rain" reminds me of R.E.M. It's like "Losing My Religion" without the mandolin, which translates into half the crappy songs on the "Singles" soundtrack. In fact, it's a dead-ringer for that goddamn Paul Westerberg song! Jeez! Even the chorus of "Caught in the Rain" over and over again would be appropriate for that movie. "Her Estuary Twang" is another example of how trite this album is. This sounds more like Bryan Adams than it does anything Matador should be putting out. From the "Ba da ba da da da da da"s on the chorus to the cheesy bass line, this song puts the listener to sleep from sheer boredom. Oh look, it's another lead guitar riff! What? It sounds just like every other goddamn lead guitar riff on "Monsoon"? Mix it up, please!
Maybe it's unfair to compare PSI and Stephen Malkmus, but it's inevitable. The fake enthusiasm on the beginning of "Line It Up" comes across as stupid. It's like Kannberg just figured out that Pavement was great because Malkmus was a weirdo and he's decided to try his hand at it. Problem is, with Malkmus it felt real; he sounded completely apathetic about everything, but it worked. With Kannberg, he just sounds like a jackass.
I guess I just expect more of people who were involved in bands I consider to be one of the greats of my time. "Escalation Breeds Escalation" is more of the same Westerbergian crap that should be in one of the break-up scenes of "Singles" and then never heard again. Every song on this album is around three-and-a-half minutes long. That's good, because the album clocks in at less than 40 minutes; it's bad because not only does every song sound the same, they are the same. If you can tell the difference between any of these tracks, I applaud you. You have one precise ear. Me? I can't be bothered. "Escalation Breeds Escalation"? More like "Monotony Breeds Fans Who Want to Stab Themselves in the Ear With a Lincoln Log." 3/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)