Now, I'm not so rash as to call Pavement "The American Radiohead"-– such a
comparison would be sonically and chronologically flawed, as well as
maddeningly cliched–- but as the decade that spawned them both is on the
wane, the pair beg at least some mutual consideration. On opposite sides
of the Atlantic, the bands cast long shadows over the alternative music
scene while exhibiting the awareness, ability and poise to search for
something more. Radiohead enlisted Nigel Godrich's production hand for
1997's brilliantly disturbing statement of purpose, OK Computer.
Pavement follows suit on their fifth full- length effort for Matador,
Opening the nineties with the carefully careless Slanted and Enchanted,
Pavement burst into almost immediate cult hero status as rock's keen grad
school quipsters, but the band's artistic path proved nearly as confounding
as one of its notoriously off- kilter melodies. Instead of wallowing in
their indie limelight, Pavement took a big step towards center on Crooked
Rain, Crooked Rain, only to reverse course with the dazzlingly difficult
Wowee Zowee. 1997's Brighten the Corners was a step, but not
one large enough to determine precisely how the decade's best original indie
rock band defined themselves. Terror Twilight clarifies that message
(literally) but delivers it with the enough of the band's requisite smirk to
cloak its ambition affably.
Recording in 24 tracks for the first time, Pavement's signature sound
emerges from its watery fuzz virtually intact-– the band is itself, only
more so. The enhanced equipment captures crystal sharp guitar licks and
frees vocalist Stephen Malkmus' ever expanding vocal range, creating a
texture that allows for the full fruition of some of the band's more
adventuresome tendencies. Tracks like the aptly dubbed "Folk Jam" and the
lofty rocker "The Hexx" would have been impossible under the old regime,
but here they flower with ease. Construing this newfound sonic lucidity as
a sell out, however, would be erroneous. While surefire singles "Spit On a
Stranger" and "Carrot Rope" find Pavement at their most earnest, they bookend
some of the band's meatiest and most esoteric work to date. Both "Billy"
and "Speak, See, Remember" shed many masks before revealing themselves,
while the album sandwiches the subdued guitar anthem, "Cream Of Gold,"
between the swaggering ballads "You Are a Light" and "Major Leagues."
With OK Computer, Radiohead stepped off alternative rock's sinking ship
on to the dry land of classicism, coloring the grand vision and aspirations of
'60s and '70s rock with a dose of '90s realism and integrity. Similarly, Pavement
seems poised for its grab at history on Terror Twilight; finally ready to
assume the Velvet Underground's long unworn crown as rock music's most ingenious
creators, diligent observers, and unique, confident voices.