Since Slint broke up in 1992, guitarist David Pajo's path has been rather circuitous, from songs to instrumentals and back again. He skirted around both styles and names--M, Aerial M, etc.--for a few years, eventually settling on the moniker Papa M and making two excellent records, 1999's expansive Live From a Shark Cage and 2001's folksy tour de force Whatever, Mortal. Last year he finally eschewed pseudonyms on Pajo, a chilly, introspective set that hit many of its intended emotional targets but didn't quite match Whatever, Mortal's magic. His second album as himself, 1968, takes things another slight step down.
That doesn't mean that it's not still pretty great, full of tunes that burrow into your brain and are filtered through Pajo's hypnotic semi-whisper. Still, something small but essential is missing, due to an oddly flat tone overall. Whatever, Mortal and Pajo deftly mixed studio rockers with bedroom recordings and lo-fi sketches, but there's little of that kind of formal variety here. Most of 1968 occupies a narrow range of mood, tempo, and style. Pajo's clever songwriting remains effective: "Cyclone Eye" mixes country and blues into a small symphony, the organ hook in "Wrong Turn" becomes a beguiling nursery rhyme, and the downbeat "Who's That Knocking?" turns a traditional lyric into an intimate elegy, a tactic that has become a Pajo trademark. It's just a shame that he's no longer as playful with his instrumentation and recording techniques as he is with words and melodies. A little sonic flexibility could've turned 1968 from a solid starter into an all-star.