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Cover Art Pavement
Terror Twilight
Rating: 9.2

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, Terror Twilight.

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.

-Neil Lieberman

10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible