Pavement are one of those cult bands that you just eventually come across one day, and it may be hard to pin down exactly how they appeared in your life. For me, I can’t at all remember who introduced me to them, or how I found their work. Despite the vessel that brought them into my life being clouded in mystery, I can still recall strongly how I felt upon hearing Stereo (Brighten the Corners‘ opening track) for that first time. I was already a big fan of Pixies, and a few other calling card bands in that alternative-guitar-rock style, yet Pavement backed up their raw and esoteric ditties with an amazing intelligence and wit that I hadn’t heard before. Nobody loves Pixies’ Black Francis wailing on about incest and space more than me, but there was something in the lyrics of Stephen Malkmus that was far more relatable.
The very best of bands speak to us on multiple levels, and to have the added tongue-in-cheek insights of Malkmus plastered over catchy, enjoyable, intelligent and creative music instantly made Pavement a band to dive into. The images he conjures, and the clever turns of phrase he employs, are as evocative as the compositions around it, creating an all-around quality that helps all of their work outgrow its humble roots and approach. Pavement are clearly not pretentious, especially by the release of Brighten the Corners, as they balance observations about the futility of life and general observational philosophy with equally burning questions about the remarkably high singing voice of Geddy Lee (of Rush fame), and whether he uses it in day-to-day conversation or not.
(turns out that his “cuz” knows Geddy, and he does!)
Brighten the Corners may not be the best Pavement album technically (though I won’t let anyone tell me that Slanted and Enchanted is better), but it’s bloody strong from start to finish; also holding a special place in my heart for being my personal introduction to the group. From the distinctive bass-line of Stereo, right through the gorgeously aimless tones of Transport is Arranged and all the way to the twisted Americana of its closing track Fin, the music on the album constantly skates a perfect line between pushing the boundaries of their genre and sounding like they’re actually having fun with their instruments.
That’s what makes Pavement such a remarkable band – balance. Their humour and cheekiness apologises for their wistful contemplation, and in turn their staggering intelligence makes up for their daft, off-the-cuff perspectives and sounds. As a result, they never seem silly and immature, whilst also never taking themselves too seriously either. Their songs are sure to make you laugh at times, while they’re just as likely to make you think – a rare quality to be treasured.
Lower moments on Brighten the Corners are extremely few and far between, making the record pretty comfortable sailing through a tracklist of amazingly composed alt-rock mini-masterpieces. Bands this original are all too rare in the modern climate, with Pavement mostly refusing to fall into any pre-established category in favour of doing what came naturally to them. That’s another interesting thing about them, how effortless it all seems. When a group of young musicians really take the risk of just being themselves and going where they want, it’s much easier to forgive their occasional mistakes – which Pavement have surely made.
It’s simply that, when achieving the output that Pavement have on their own terms, the mind is always more drawn to get past some of the shakier and messier aspects of their music. The pure personality within their songwriting is clear from the opening bars, and that demands attention when so much is rehashed, uninspired or false. When listening to their albums it can feel physically refreshing to hear such inherent creativity, which is probably why they endure to this day. Where are the Pavements of the 2000s? Is Kendrick Lamar really all we’ve got?