Pavement - The Band

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One of the most distinctive and original rock bands of the 90s, Pavement were formed in Stockton, CA, in 1989 by guitarist Scott Kannberg (better known as Spiral Stairs) and Steve Malkmus, who handled most of the singing and songwriting duties. Recording in the garage of drummer Gary Young, their first release, on their own label Treble Kicker, was the Slay Tracks (1933-1969) EP (named for a shooting in a Stockton school on the day of recording), a passable 15 minutes of lo-fi angst and screeching guitar. Two further EPs, Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever, followed soon after, continuing the same theme. These early records contained some fine moments, notably the recklessly chaotic "Forklift", the uncomplicated indie-pop of "Box Elder" and the Pixies-influenced "Debris Slide", but were patchy and didn't demonstrate Pavement at their best.

More fulfilling was the simple but impassioned single "Summer Babe", the undoubted Pavement anthem if such a thing exists, which provided a perfect introduction to the debut album Slanted And Enchanted. Released on Matador Records in 1992, some time after the early EPs, the album was well worth the wait. Although dominated by the loud (and still lo-fi) guitar work, many of the songs showed a pleasingly acute sense of melody, emotion and lyrical attention, particularly "Summer Babe", "Here" and the glorious "Trigger Cut". A bassist and extra percussionist (Mark Ibold and Bob Nastanovich) were called in to add depth to the sound, and also to hide Gary Young's more obvious drumming limitations. All in all it was one of the best records of 1992, and saw Pavement's popularity increasing to match their critical acclaim.
The following months entailed the release of a new EP, Watery Domestic, a compilation of their early EPs and other tracks entitled Westing By Musket And Sextant, and the departure of Gary Young. His heart was in it and his live antics were seldom less than memorable, but drumming had never been his strong point and he was replaced by the more competent Steve West.

West's arrival coincided with the maturity of Pavement's sound to a more accessible, thoughtful and, thankfully, well-recorded level, as heard on the second album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994). The energy and emotion was still there but the songs were more subtle and diverse, and "Cut Your Hair" was Pavement's first pure pop moment, and an MTV hit. The album also featured slower songs such as the bleak "Newark Wilder" (or is it "Welder"?) and one of their all-time classics, the country-influenced "Range Life". A lyric in that song, "Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins / Nature kids, I/they don't have no function / I don't understand what they mean and I couldn't really give a f**k", and a reference to the Stone Temple Pilots in the next verse, landed Pavement in some trouble with Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, although perhaps the affair never reached its true rock star feud potential.

Pavement weren't ready to rest and the third album came out in 1995. Over the course of its 18 tracks, Wowee Zowee showed a more mellow, personal, Neil Young-influenced sound, although the album was again musically diverse. There was no repeat of "Cut Your Hair" this time round - the songs were more oblique and unusual, often featuring desperately sad, feedback-drenched guitar and wistful melodies, and occasional pieces of largely vocal-free music. It took a few listens to become accustomed, but it was another great album. The best songs were the most poignant: "We Dance", "Black Out", "Grounded", and "Father to a Sister of Thought", the last of which was also the most accessible on the album and contained some classic steel guitar breaks. It wasn't all drawn-out depression though - the penchant for screechy vocals continued on some tracks, and "Flux = Rad" was pure grunge to rival anything on their early releases. Wowee Zowee was accused by some fans and sections of the media of being too sprawling and incoherent, and indeed at times it was, but it was a record that proved they had a mellow, creative side to their musical vision.

Pavement took it more slowly after that album, the band members starting to focus more on other interests and musical projects. The Pacific Trim EP (1996) was an acceptable, three-track (at least on the CD version) release, but much better was the album Brighten The Corners in 1997. Opening with the storming single "Stereo", structured around the spoken/shouted wise-guy lyrics, it was a much sharper, more focused affair. "Shady Lane" was a slice of catchy guitar pop, continuing the theme of (vaguely) socially critical lyrics, and the album featured many more superbly balanced blends of aforementioned biting words, catchy tunes and weirdness. Also notable was a great contribution from Scott, "Date With IKEA", with melodic but distorted vocals topped with a stunning guitar solo, and also the beautifully bleak closer, "FIN" (aka "Infinite Spark"; Pavement never could work out what half their songs were called). Again there was criticism of what were claimed to be superfluous songs, but nevertheless it was a successful and confident return to the territory of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

As the months passed, rumours started to abound of a Pavement split. Media reports seemed to suggest that their heart was no longer in it, but band insistence that there would be a fifth album was confirmed with the release of Terror Twilight (1999). It was immediately obvious that this was their most lovingly-crafted and accessible release yet, as the 11 songs combined the old Pavement ways with a new penchant for folksy influences and catchy melodies. The singles "Major Leagues" and "Spit on a Stranger" were gentle, tuneful ballads and songs like "Folk Jam" and the sublime "Speak, See, Remember" provided the folk contribution. Meanwhile, the third single, "Carrot Rope", was another catchy tune and a fitting closer to their final record (see below). The album drew great critical acclaim for being both accessible and enduring; and although some old-time fans were angered by the idea of Pavement going 'pop', most accepted it for the classic it was (and is).

Sadly, a few months after the release, the prophecies of a split seemed as if they were about to become true. In the autumn of 1999 Pavement announced their decision to split "for the foreseeable future" and played what was widely believed to be their final gig, in London. Over the next year it became apparent from interviews and from the band's other musical projects (Scott Kannberg has gone solo, Steve Malkmus is now fronting a band called the Jicks) that the reunion wasn't going to happen.
Pavement leave behind them a legacy of devoted support, critical acclaim and five memorable albums.

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