On their consummately influential full LP debut (after whetting the musical appetites of their prospective audience with several singles that managed to instantly elevate the fledgling band to the status of cult favorites), Slanted And Enchanted, Pavement marry a primitive, often dissonant sonic backdrop to hyper catchy pop melodies, effectively creating a subgenre of the indie rock movement that bred myriad imitators but few groups of the caliber of the pioneers themselves.
Indeed there is plenty of dissonance present of the album, but never to mask melodic deficiencies or dissonance for the sake of dissonance ala King Crimson; rather, this is a controlled dissonance, one that's actually used to accentuate the melodies rather than corrupt or obstruct them.
While they may have fashioned a radical new sound, the band's greatest asset, at heart, is frontman Stephen Malkmus's incredible pop instincts, an innate gift for conjuring memorable melodies that animates the entire record. It's his unrivaled pop acumen that makes the album so entertaining, rather than its venerable historical value or aural innovations.
Thus nearly every track on the album is an indie rock masterpiece, distorted rockers each containing a multitude of exceptional pop hooks. Be it the classic opener Summer Babe, the profoundly catchy Trigger Cut, the irresistible Perfume-V, the seductive In The Mouth Of A desert or the Fall homage Conduit For Sale!, there are no weak numbers, merely a seemingly never ending parade brilliant, creative pop melodies imbued with the band's trademark unique sound.
The band even manages to deliver a moving ballad, Here, a difficult feat for a group as typically flippant and insincere as Pavement, proving that there were more dimensions to them than was readily apparent.
This album alone managed to transfigure an obscure college rock favorite into a veritable indie phenomenon, one of the driving forces in indie rock scene. While their trailblazing sound accounts for much of this, it's Malkmus's brilliant songwriting that one can attribute this overnight success to, a brand of rock that manages to be accessible in spite of the potentially deleterious preponderance of dissonance.
Thus Slanted And Enchanted is a true indie classic, an album of unparalleled historical importance that manages to be extremely entertaining in its own right. Malkmus's flair for generating catchy and memorable melodies is in full force, resulting in an enduring indie pop masterpiece that retains its uniqueness in spite of the inevitable armadas of cheap knockoffs and assorted imitators.
Pavement had matured considerably in the time between Slanted And Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with manifestations of this growth of character including largely eschewing their signature dissonance in favor of prettier aural aesthetics and a pronounced tendency to produce much slower numbers as opposed to their customary procession of energetic noise rockers.
What hasn't changed, however, is Malkmus's pop genius, as is evident throughout this brilliant set of songs. While the group's maturation isn't an asset in and of itself, as their more hyper, impatient disposition on Slanted And Enchanted made for an immensely entertaining experience, the more series mode depicted on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain complements Malkmus's pop acumen as effectively as the more immature fare on their debut, resulting in another masterpiece courtesy of one of the forerunners in the indie rock movement.
Not all of the tracks adhere to this slower style given the presence of songs like Cut Your Hair, a somewhat dissonant, bouncy rocker in the finest tradition of Slanted And Enchanted. The fact that, in spite of their newfound stylistic approach, Pavement didn't abstain from their erstwhile modality altogether is quite fortunate, as not only was their old brand of indie pop quite entertaining but this also infuses a measure of diversity into the proceedings.
Nearly every track is a highlight, and even enervated ballads that initially simply sound bland and tedious, like Stop Breathin, subsequently reveal their charms, as on closer inspection the song's melody is quite arresting.
The album's set isn't quite up to par with its classic predecessor's, as due to its more deliberate pace it's not quite as immediately gratifying or exciting as their debut, but it remains a masterpiece in its own right; whereas after a seminal release like Slanted And Enchanted most groups would simply rush out a rehash to capitalize on their success, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain differentiates itself from the band's prior efforts with every note, as the record employs a methodology far removed from their initial style.
Thus Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is another winner from the band, balancing their newfound maturity with their typical catchy pop hooks and playful sense of humor. Their slower modality proves quite conducive to expressing the group's preexisting strengths, never diluting the melodies with their dearth of energy.
Ergo the album manages to be a classic despite its disparities with Pavement's earlier work, proving the versatility of the group, a band capable of departing from their signature style without losing anything in terms of catchiness or memorability. Even this early in their careers the group reveal themselves to be a multifaceted rock outfit, effortlessly shifting modes without compromising their strengths. The result is an indie-rock masterpiece and a brilliant companion to the band's epochal debut.
In most respects Wowee Zowee is the natural successor to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, continuing the band's development into a more mature rock outfit (that is, if an album featuring the track Brinx Job can feasibly be termed "mature"). Like its predecessor there are sporadic instances of dissonant jams and noise rockers, hence songs like Rattled By The Rush and Flux = Rad, but once again the focus is squarely on slower, more sedate numbers, with many cases of genuine aural beauty and sonic majesty occurring throughout the record.
The band by all means retain their idiosyncratic, quirky and offbeat sensibility in spite of their progressive maturation, not choosing this development at the expense of their unique persona, and the lyrics hardly conform to any existing standards of maturity; thus their elevated maturation primarily manifests itself with regards to their increasingly complex musical structures and their general abstinence from the juvenile hooliganry that once detracted from the purity of the music itself, drawing attention to the band's childish antics in favor of the sonic substance of their work.
Once again Stephen Malkmus had the chance to distinguish himself as a gifted and versatile songwriter, deftly handling the band's intricacies during this period of transition. Be it a rocker of the likes of Rattled By The Rush or one of the many gorgeous ballads (like Grounded) that populate the album Malkmus proves himself equally adept at managing this disparate content, excelling as both a composer and performer of this consummately diverse fare.
Malkmus's melodies are simply superb, as he crafts a plethora of slow, deliberately paced numbers without the aural experience ever growing the least bit tedious, likewise judiciously distributing the album's few rockers at strategic points to avert any potential monotony. Malkmus proves himself to be a master of the medium, conjuring melodies that range from beautiful to cathartic to exciting to haunting but are always, at heart, deeply entertaining and compelling.
Thus Wowee Zowee is yet another classic from the group, a strong set that manages to borrow elements from its predecessors without ever sounding like a retread. For one whose sole exposure to Pavement was through their seminal debut it would sound inconceivable that once a mere two albums removed from Slanted And Enchanted the group would be delivering beautiful, musically deep material, forsaking their once ubiquitous dissonance in favor of gorgeous arrangements, but nonetheless the band managed this feat, effectively transfiguring themselves from a prototypical indie rock group into skilled purveyors of immaculately crafted aural beauty. I still have reservations about proclaiming this incarnation of the band a clear cut improvement over their early, sloppier and more reckless form, a version that certainly offered more rock and roll excitement and immediate gratification, but there's no question that Wowee Zowee is a great artistic achievement, and the group should be commended for having grown so much in such a short time.
Ergo, while not necessarily a better final product Wowee Zowee is definitely a more accomplished album than Pavement's breakthrough debut, and can be recommended whole heartedly to any fan of the group. Wowee Zowee is simply a record that the band was incapable of producing a mere few years before, and the fact that they developed to the point where they could release an LP of this nature so little into their lifespan is a testament to the genius of indie prodigy Stephen Malkmus.
Brighten The Corners was the first Pavement album to betray little in the way of progression, artistic or otherwise; Slanted And Enchanted provided the catalyst for an indie rock revolution, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was a refinement over its sloppy predecessor, taming its more impulsive and immature qualities, while Wowee Zowee offered a unique brand of aural beauty, the Pavement formula as filtered through a more mature, accomplished medium.
Brighten The Corners, on the other hand, is the first product of the group's that could be labeled "generic Pavement," an album that makes no strides toward any kind of tangible advancement.
It does, however, tone down some of Pavement's more overbearing properties, seeking a happy medium between the styles of Slanted And Enchanted and Wowee Zowee without embracing either, and in this regard it could be called the band's most accessible album to this point.
Likewise, to complement its newfound potential commercial viability thanks to its more accessible nature (not that these financial aspirations ever came to fruition) it rocks considerably more than their prior outing, a necessary facet for an indie album that harbors mainstream pretensions.
I'm generally inclined to overlook a lack of progression provided the caliber of the songwriting and performances is impressive, and I'm never averse to a band rocking out if it suits the context, nor am I a snob who scoffs at the notion of increased accessibility as long as it doesn't castrate the group's artistic vision; thus none of the aforementioned traits of the album are inherently problematic for me, simply conditional upon how they're implemented.
Fortunately they're implemented quite well, as Malkmus hasn't lost any of the songwriting talent that animated their previous endeavors. The lack of progression is certainly compensated for by the high quality of the material, Pavement had always possessed a great aptitude for rocking even if they deemphasized this side of themselves following their more energetic debut, and the elevated accessibility doesn't compromise the band's ambitions in any respect.
The songs are uniformly strong, with standout tracks including the rockers Stereo and Embassy Row and the irresistible pop gems Shady Lane/J Vs. S and Date W/ Ikea. There are no truly weak tracks, as a high level of quality is sustained for the duration of the record.
Thus while not as "important" an album as their first three, Brighten The Corners remains immensely entertaining, filled with great pop hooks and memorable vocal melodies. It doesn't leave quite as lasting an impression as the more substantial opening trio, feeling like a minor cousin to those indie behemoths, and overall comes across as somewhat slight, but nevertheless it's an eminently worthy addition to the group's catalogue as well as to any fan's CD collection.
When divorced from its context in the band's discography the album becomes rather more impressive, but even when in the company of its musical brethren it can certainly hold its own, boasting great songwriting courtesy of Malkmus and strong instrumental performances all around. Overlooking the album in favor of its more prominent predecessors would be an egregious mistake, as while those three albums are indeed essential purchases for any indie rock fan Brighten The Corners is also an essential LP in its own right, and should be treated as such by any fan of the group's output.
Much like its immediate predecessor Terror Twilight fails to explore any new territory, making no strides in any new or innovative directions; fortunately, also like its predecessor, it's a very strong product that, while it may cover familiar ground, does so exceedingly well, to the point where its lack of creative advancement and risk of imminent potential stagnation can easily be overlooked in favor of lauding its more admirable qualities.
Operating in a very similar vein as Brighten The Corners, Terror Twilight is a collection of indie rockers adorned with myriad irresistible pop hooks; the songwriting is highly consistent, with nothing I'd describe as filler and a plethora of Pavement classics. This is hardly a new formula for the group, needless to say, an exercise in stylistic (though thankfully never melodic) self-plagiarism, but the tunes remain very tight and gripping, absolving the group of their regressive sins.
A more curious respect in which the group differentiates Terror Twilight from their previous output involves an inexplicable tendency to often superimpose bizarre and ultimately incongruous instrumental sound effects over their work. These aural intrusions rarely seem to fit into their respective tracks, neither ameliorating nor marring the songs, amounting to more of an oddity than a flaw or an asset.
While largely adhering to a set musical style, Malkmus manages to infuse a measure of diversity into the tracks. While at heart they're all archetypal indie rock, certain tracks find ways to distinguish themselves; hence there are tracks that rock considerably harder (like the terrific heavy anthem Cream Of Gold), more moody, atmospheric numbers (like the unforgettable The Hexx) and even bouncy pop songs (like the infectious, hyper catchy closer Carrot Rope). These may be superficial distinctions, as none of them really break the mold of the album, but any hint of diversity is welcome in a context such as this.
Thus Terror Twilight is another strong outing, and a fitting swansong for the band. It encapsulates nearly every strength of the group into a streamlined, compact form, and while each element has been done better in the past (in addition to being much fresher at the time) the album remains a profoundly captivating listen, providing ample entertainment for any Pavement fan.
When seen from this perspective the band's subsequent dissolution was likely a sagacious choice on the part of the group, as there were no real new directions for Pavement to head in and, given Malkmus's absolute creative tyranny at this point in the band's development, the time was right for their frontman to launch his inevitable solo career.
Had Pavement continued onwards their already tangible stagnation would have become far more pronounced, exacerbating the quality of the group's material. With each new release the rate of stagnation was accelerated, and after a few more albums the band would have degenerated into little more than a tepid self-parody of a once mighty, revolutionary indie rock outfit.
As it stands Pavement managed to evade these pitfalls, bowing out right before the band sustained these creative blows. Ergo their legacy was never tarnished, preserved fully intact as a continuing influence for the next wave of indie rock acts. Thus regardless of the qualitative transgressions committed by Malkmus in his solo career the band itself will remain sacred in the indie community, functioning as a catalyst for myriad rock groups to derive inspiration from, a role it will continue to play for many more years.