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Discussions: Pavement

By Philip Cosores & F.M. Stringer; August 19, 2011 at 2:10 PM 

Pavement

The connection between fan and band is examined in our latest Discussions feature about indie rock figureheads Pavement.

PHILIP COSORES: Not to get too old-guy, but I bought my first Pavement album in the year 1997. I only remember this because I was visiting a friend in Houston, Texas at the time, immediately following my first year of high school. I think the Tibetan Freedom Concert was on TV and I saw both Radiohead and Pavement perform, thus inspiring me to buy both the recent Radiohead album (OK Computer) and the recent Pavement album (Brighten The Corners) from the Blockbuster Music or some shit like that. Now, with Radiohead, I had heard The Bends and “Creep,” so it wasn’t such a huge leap. But, with Pavement, I had heard the name, but was not nearly cool enough to be into Pavement at age 14. Regardless, Brighten The Corners clicked with me almost instantly. It contained tracks that evoked wonder with their strange melodic hooks and bizarro lyrics (“Stereo,” “Shady Lane”), but also had jams that were instantly accessible, like the Spiral Stairs song “Date With IKEA” and the ballad “Transport Is Arranged.” And I hold by this opinion, as a gateway drug, Pavement’s fourth record, Brighten The Corners, is the best introduction to the band.

F.M. STRINGER: My first introduction to Pavement was in the latter half of high school, probably a good seven years after your Brighten The Corners purchase, and the only music I ever bought from Blockbuster was the soundtrack to The Rugrats movie (not even shitting you, but come on, I was barely ten). I had written an article for the school newspaper attempting to identify the “Top Five Alternative Rock Records OF ALL TIME.” My use of “Alternative Rock” (while telling) aside, my Radiohead-y, Smiths-y list inspired my biology teacher to burn me a mix cd, which looking back feels backwards and also sexy, on which she included Slanted and Enchanted slow jam “Here” in addition to tracks by The Annuals, The Feelies, Posies, etc. A bite of the apple swallowed, I asked her for more, and she gave me and this other dude who was into music each a burned copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which I maintain as the greatest, most flawless 42 and a half minutes of God-rendered sonic consummation… etc. etc… ever. The other dude said he liked “Cut Your Hair” and the rest was, like, whatever man, okay I guess. What a dweeb. Intrigued by the lurching banter of the guitars that open “Silence Kit,” and, like you, drawn in by a sort of lyrical balancing act between immediate accessibility (“Let’s talk about leaving!”) and a sort of phantasmagorical strangeness, images by suggestion (“Silent kid don’t listen to your grandmother’s advice about Ezra”). “Elevate Me Later” sealed it, that crunch, that melody. I wish I could relive those first six minutes with Crooked Rain, to feel it all new again.

I think that as an album, Brighten the Corners is probably the tightest, most concise of Pavement’s canon, and it is incredible for sure, but whenever I’m trying to turn someone on to the band, I reach for Crooked Rain, maybe because of my personal experience, maybe because I feel it is the most complete aesthetic snapshot of a band accidentally accomplishing something wild. Would you first suggest Brighten The Corners?

COSORES: I would, and primarily because of the recording quality. Lo-fi, which Pavement stepped away from gradually with each release, is a scary thing for some people. Many equate scratchy recording and low-level mastering as the result of bad music, so Brighten The Corners, for me, provides a more comfortable gateway with being very un-Pavement like, which their final release, the Nigel Goodrich-helmed Terror Twilight, is. Terror Twilight, though containing a few keepers in “Speak, See, Remember” and “Folk Jam,” is just not in the same class as the first four records or the EPs.

Now, as far as Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain goes, it is a pretty perfect record. When I first got into the album, and I admit it was much easier to absorb than Slanted & Enchanted, I gravitated towards the obvious rockers “Unfair,” “Cut Your Hair,” “Range Life.” Years later, it is the more subtle and traditional Malkmus-y cuts that get my blood boiling – the feather-light whimsy of “Stop Breathin’,” the Buddy Holly-via-drunken-memory hook of “Silence Kit,” and the pop perfection of “Gold Soundz.” I mean, the line “you’re the kind of girl I like because you’re empty, and I’m empty,” will always ring true in a fucked-up romantic way. So, yeah, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is amazing, a top-ten-of-the-nineties, top-50-of-all-time kind of effort.

But, I mean, Slanted & Enchanted is the best, right?

STRINGER: Yes, but also no.

I will never be convinced that there is an album better than Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but Slanted and Enchanted sees Pavement at their most unbridled, and as a result the hooks that emerge from the dirt feel more collectively more natural and effortless than perhaps anything else from the band. Everything done right on Slay Tracks and Perfect Sound Forever, the singalong fuck you of “Box Elder” and the sarcastic resignation over squall of “Home,” is amplified and refined just enough to tap toes, but not so much as to betray that which is so characteristically Pavement: Loud guitars, ambling bass, beer bottles shaking on cheap-o amplifiers and heaps of disdain. Even beyond the passive lover, dog days voyeurism of “Summer Babe” and the call-and-response horniness of “Trigger Cut,” Slanted and Enchanted just doesn’t stop. The sludge of the 30-second mark of “In the mouth a desert” and the mysteriously forlorn “Zurich is Stained” establish this sort of twisted humanity. Like you said, it rings true in a fucked-up way. Then there’s the clashing guitars on “Perfume-v,” a gesture the band would develop, though it never felt so claustrophobic as this, and the buzzsaw “Jackals…” Pavement feels also at their most together on this album, which is weird considering its history. Slanted and Enchanted is also just so fucking important, in ways that have been explored at greater length elsewhere. It’s noisy and pissed off but never without that intangible so-oft-imitated charm.

Talk to me of “Grounded.” Oh and I guess the other songs on “the weird Pavement album.”

COSORES: I…

STRINGER: Oh shit I forgot to talk about “Here.”

COSORES: Go ahead.

STRINGER: “Here” is gorgeous and painfully brief and so fucking tragic it kills me.

COSORES: Agreed.

I’ll never forget the year I discovered “Grounded” and really grew to appreciate Wowee Zowee. It was 2010 and I went to see Pavement twice in concert. Yeah, I never really opened up to their third record, though I was an easy convert to the straight-ahead rock freak-out of “Rattled By The Rush” and the acoustic lyrical game of madlibs that is “We Dance.” Those songs were easy to like. And, I mean, many more should have been easy to like. But the “weirdness” of Wowee Zowee made the entire 18(!) song affair seem really closed off. And, I think that is the problem that a lot of people have with Pavement: Fans of the band seem like an exclusive club and people that have a difficulty with the band feel judged or something for not getting it. In turn, they hold the band in contempt when the reality is that Pavement just needs a little more time to penetrate many peoples musical walls. I know I had a wall against Wowee Zowee.

But, yeah. “Grounded,” “Fight This Generation,” and “Kennel District” all found a new life for me with their live show, and eventually, turned me on to trying Wowee Zowee again, and discovering what might be my favorite Pavement song: the deep-cut “Pueblo.” But, after going through my recent Wowee Zowee phase, I am almost left with an emptiness because there is no more Pavement to discover. Lord knows that Makmus’ solo records don’t cut it. Did you have a chance to catch their reunion tour? I saw the first and last American performances and they were certainly interesting.

STRINGER: I did actually, twice also. Once at Sasquatch and once in Central Park. The former performance was by a considerable margin more “memorable”: They threw ice cream at us (I think it was Stephen Malkmus’ birthday?), interrupted their own songs with in-fighting (staged?) and the kind of side-of-your-mouth commentary you’d expect for the band, and spent way too long making weird keyboard noises and pounding a tambourine while making animal noises in what I took as a bizarre parody of “modern indie.” At least that’s how I remember it. In other words, it was Pavement exactly how I’d want to see them.

In terms of the exclusivity of Club Pavement, I don’t know. I think Pavement is a band you have to make your way through on your own terms. If we’re first sitting down, my putting on “AT&T” (a great song by the way) and air guitaring in your face probably isn’t going to turn you on to it too much. One of the best things about them, especially for younger listeners, is the time it takes from an entrance point to, I guess, full-on Pavement fandom. They’re not the kind of band you burn out in a month, I feel. And yeah, maybe this creates a strange sort of divide between audience groups, but this is music and no one should really give a fuck about being judged on some imaginary degree of initiation. That said, I know it happens, and I’m guilty of balking when people cover their ears (true story, but it was Butthole Surfers, the point stands).

I really like Wowee Zowee, perhaps because of its meandering pacing and, by comparison, indulgence. I dig your love for “Pueblo.” It’s probably my favorite song on that album, alongside the self-reflective radness of “Kennel District” and “Grounded,” of course. It’s strange to talk about which Pavement albums are more inaccessible than others, but I can see Zowee being a speed bump. It’s long and the distance between instant gems is a little greater. For me it was a grower, though, and maybe it will be for you also.

COSORES: In terms of “seeing Pavement how I’ve always wanted to see them,” the second time I saw them – their last American performance at Matador at 21 – was a feistier, somewhat over-it band that was probably more in tune with what it would have been like to see them in their prime. Still, I liked the happier Pavement from the beginning of their reunion tour, when it was all fresh and they hadn’t pissed each-other off yet. Still, regardless of what you thought about the performances and whether or not they scheduled too many dates, last year’s tour was the fruition of a decade of wanting. Hell, The National even included a lyric about waiting for Pavement to get back together on “So Far Around The Bend.” It is rare that fans actually get what they want, how they want it and I feel like Pavement fans really got what they wanted with that reunion tour. Which is weird considering what punks Pavement always appeared to be. How weird is it that their lasting memory could be that of crowd-pleasers?

For me, and this might be my last thought about Pavement, I wholly think that Pavement is a bonding experience. I can type in a lyric on Facebook, like, “Lies and betrayal, fruit-covered nails, eeeeeelectricity and lust” and I know someone will respond accordingly, whether it is with the next line or something like “tricks are everything to me.” This is something that me and my friends do and I’m sure most people have no idea what is going on. It’s not to be exclusive or to distinguish ourselves, but more as gag, because Malkmus created these nonsense lyrics that in time have come to mean quite a bit to the fans. I mean, people always have connected through music, but with Pavement, the connection seems so direct. Like, it’s not to a sound, or an album, or even the band, but to the whole ethos. And that is huge. And weird. And beautiful.

STRINGER: Oh, I have no opinion on whether the tour was too long or too short, but I will agree that it was a long time coming, and an appreciated gesture – allowing younger or newer fans to gather round the proverbial fire and experience a band that means a ton to so many. I think Pavement have that kind of sense of humor, though, especially by now. It isn’t really about being punks or being try-less-hard than thou, but about playing the songs the way they play them, which for the vast majority of us is pleasing. Appropriate that the band that doesn’t care what you think manages that visceral pleasure so effortlessly.

I don’t think I can sum up my thoughts and feelings on Pavement in any cathartic or precious way. I can apologize for ignoring Terror Twilight, but it comes accompanied by a shrug and a well-whadda-ya-want-from-me expression. Pavement is a band that has earned most of the accolades and insults they’ve garnered. A connection to the music, like the one you were describing, is at once deeply personal and delightfully together-feeling shared. Pavement is that band I want to play for my kids’ herb friends and say “Yeah, while your daddy was listening to Dipset, this is what I was playing while pissing off of fire escapes onto frat brothers.” Dads always exaggerate.

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Other Discussions:

Tom Waits
The Velvet Underground
Led Zeppelin
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