PLATINUM SOUNDZ Pavement

 

With
the reunion tour already in full swing, Stockton’s
finest serve up a crucial overview of their recorded oeuvre.

 

BY RON HART

 

I was a senior in high school when I first heard the music
of Pavement.  It was 1992, and a friend
of mine had picked up the then just-released Slanted and Enchanted at a record shop in New York City on the recommendation of the
clerk who rang him up and he had called me to come over and listen to it. My
friend quickly moved on from Pavement, but I instantly fell in love with their
sound: that perfect blend of two of my favorite bands at the time (and still to
this day) – R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. The group’s unique, uncanny blend of lo-fi
fuzz and hi-fi melodies essentially got me through college, not unlike the way
The Replacements got the generation before me through this most detrimental
period in their respective lives. And it seemed as though the release of their
albums cosmically coincided with major events that went down in my life, for
better and for worse, just when I needed their music the most.

 

For instance, Crooked
Rain, Crooked Rain
(1994) dropped as I was slowly recovering from a bad car
accident that nearly left me legless. Wowee
Zowee
(1995) was released on a Tuesday while I was entrenched in my very
first internship at the Hudson Valley’s premier alternative rock station, WDST,
and enjoying a very positive sea change in my social circles just as I was
about to start my first year at SUNY New Paltz. 
Brighten The Corners (1997) hit
stores while I was rebounding from a traumatizing year where I broke up with my
first serious girlfriend and mourned the death of my beloved grandfather,
practically saving me from the depths of a hazardous bout with depression. But
at the same time, it came out just as I was hitting my stride as a college
radio DJ on the New Paltz campus FM station and many of the cuts on Corners were played in heavy rotation
during my graveyard shift gig in 1997. Meanwhile, Terror Twilight (1999) was released during my first post-grad job
in the editorial department for CMJ’s New
Music Report
, where I was lucky enough to have scored a sit-down interview
with Spiral Stairs and Mark Ibold for a feature coinciding with the band’s swan
song. At the same time, I lost my mom to bone cancer the month that Twilight was released and that album
certainly helped me get through the grief I was experiencing upon losing her.

 

Why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane, you might
be asking yourself oh-so-snarkily? Because it’s a reflection on how important
Pavement has been to me and the life I led since graduating high school. Their
songs were never just about a level of coolness or some kind of rote social
status symbol with which to impress others. They’ve stuck by me through
thick and thin, swinging by to provide kudos for missions accomplished and
much-needed distractions in times of turmoil like five wise-cracking, caring
older brothers who know just the right thing to say (even if it was conveyed in
a stream-of-conscious barrage of heady non-sequiturs and snappy cultural
references). As
a fan of their music, that means something to me on so many levels it’s hard
for me to break down into words on a computer screen.  And I know I’m not the only one who feels this
way.

 

Now, just as I am reaching another milestone in my life,
celebrating my first year in the new house purchased by me and my future bride
as we plan for our wedding later this fall, the band has embarked on its
much-celebrated reunion tour across the globe – currently, as of this writing,
they are in Australia, with Japan, the UK, Europe and the U.S. to follow – in
support of Quarantine The Past: The Best
of Pavement
, a stellar 23 track joyride through Pavement’s decade in action
(1989-1999), complete with all of the obvious faves intermingled with a few
choice nuggets for the most hardcore heads.

 

Most Pavement fans worth their weight in salt have no need
to purchase this collection, especially if you are like me and you’re sitting
on two copies of each of their full-lengths thanks to Matador Records’ excellent
deluxe edition reissues of their first four LPs for the label (and a two-disc version
of Terror Twilight is promised to be
in the works, so start saving up those pennies).  But like me, you know you are going to be
picking it up anyway. Perhaps the chronology by which the songs are sequenced
caught your eye; and believe me, hearing “Grounded”>”Summer Babe (Winter
Version)”>”Range Life” is a blissfully blended trifecta you definitely want
to place your bets on.  Maybe it’s the
context of hearing such album-worthy b-sides as “Mellow Jazz Docent” from the Perfect Sound Forever 10-inch or “Box
Elder” from the group’s 1989 debut EP Slay Tracks (1933-1969) rub elbows with such hits as “Stereo” and “Cut
Your Hair”. Chances are strong that it could be the inclusion of “Unseen Power
of a Picket Fence”, Pavement’s unheralded tribute to R.E.M., finally giving you
the quintessential reason to ditch that God-awful 1993 AIDS benefit compilation
No Alternative and be done with having to suffer through Soul Asylum’s
painful rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” once and for all.  And if you are one of these younglings sucking
at the teat of Pitchfork Media and looking for a quick, easy way to understand
what the fuss is all about regarding this group who first got together when you
were still pissing in your Pampers, Matador has just provided you with your in.

 

Whatever
the case may be, Quarantine The Past: The Best of Pavement is an
essential collection, whether you are a grizzled veteran of the beautiful noise
Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich, Scott Kannberg, Mark Ibold and Steve West
dished out in their short decade as a studio band or a newbie looking for a
means to break into the clubhouse for the first time.  In fact, it would be a 10-out-of-10-stars
release were it not for the omission of one of my three favorite Pavement
songs, “Rattled By The Rush” from Wowee Zowee. (Whoever was asleep at
the wheel when the final track listing was made for this set and forgot to
include this most essential tune deserves a trip straight to bed without dinner
to think about what he or she did.)

 

Nevertheless,
here’s hoping that the reunion tour sets off a creative spark that gets these
guys in the studio once again to create another ten years of gold soundz. After
all, I have a whole flipside to a lifetime of crises and boring changes that
are going to need a soundtrack.

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Marcus Roth]

 

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