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Pavement

A few kerbs short of a pedestrian crossing or a slab of genius, PAVEMENT were to the 90s what fellow-American alt-rock contemporaries HUSKER DU were to the 80s, albeit with a few cracks along the way – all puns intended. A soundscape of noise and cascading melody, skewed frontman Stephen Malkmus was undoubtedly in awe of the likes of SONIC YOUTH, PIXIES and The FALL, while their own oblique indie identity unsaddled these comparisons into a cul de sac throughout their decade-long tenure.
The brainchild of the aforesaid Malkmus (vocals/guitar) and long=time friend Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg (guitar/vocals), PAVEMENT were formed in Stockton, California, in 1989. When grunge was on the agenda for most musos to slack and let their hair down to, the high-on-energy lo-fi duo created a cacophony of clatter on two early-doors EPs, `Slay Tracks 1933 – 1969’ – for the self-financed Treble Kicker imprint and featuring the classy `You’re Killing Me’ and `Box Elder’ – plus `Demolition Plot J-7’, for the freshly-formed Drag City. The latter saw the addition of drummer Gary Young.
Although equally short ’n’ sweet, the 10-inch EP `Perfect Sound Forever’ (with a second sticksman Bob Nastanovich in tow), the buzz for tracks such as `Debris Slide’ and the medley of `Angel Carver Blues – Mellow Jazz Docent’, started to filter through. The sonic, shambling charm of the likes of single, `Summer Babe [winter version]’, eventually secured the band a UK deal with Big Cat Records and Matador in the US, while securing the services of a bassist, Mark Ibold (ex-DUST DEVILS).
PAVEMENT’s roadworthy debut album, SLANTED AND ENCHANTED (1992) {*8}, was finally unleashed amid much anticipation, the record’s covertly melodic, avant-indie grunge drawing inevitable, but favourable comparisons to The VELVET UNDERGROUND, PIXIES and even SEBADOH. Masterfully combining chaotic discord and shards of crystalline harmony, its most compelling moments lay in the lazy melancholia of `Trigger Cut – Wounded-Kite At: 17’, `In The Mouth Of A Desert’ and `Zurich Is Stained’. Malkmus’ brilliantly cryptic lyrics and offhand phrasing, together with the twisted beauty of their music saw the band consistently dubbed as the American FALL. Two other tracks that stood out for different reasons were the Mark E. Smith-cloned `Two States’ and the VU-esque `Conduit For Sale!’. No bad thing, and besides, the band were carving out their own niche on the live circuit, wildman Young’s infamous onstage antics an added attraction – for now. The album cracked the lower reaches of the UK chart, while a compilation of the early EP’s: WESTING (BY MUSKET & SEXTANT) (1993) {*7}, dented the Top 30.
Prior to the release of PAVEMENT’s follow-up proper, CROOKED RAIN CROOKED RAIN (1994) {*9}, the band parted company on less than amicable terms with sticksman stuntman Young; his replacement being Malkmus’ childhood buddy, Steve West. This intriguing record marked the band’s most enticingly melodic affair to date, the keening `Cut Your Hair’ single almost reaching the British Top 40, while the album itself reached No.15, cementing PAVEMENT’s position as the crown kings of lo-fi. As Californian as any Beefheart-ian escapade from the last generation, the squeaky sprawl of Malkmus was resplendently ramshackle, but it mattered not on mini-gems `Silence Kit’, `Unfair’, `Heaven Is A Truck’, `Gold Soundz’ and `Range Life’.
Although PAVEMENT failed to breach the Billboard chart until later, they built up a loyal following in the US underground scene on the back of constant touring; the defiantly experimental and diverse, WOWEE ZOWEE! (1995) {*8}, proving that the band were making no concessions to radio programmers. There were still perfect PAVEMENT passages of stark beauty, as on failed single, `Father To A Sister Of Thought’. While the UK Top 20 album – and a half! – may have put off those awaiting the immediate rock-pop fix of “Crooked Rain…”, the breadth and depth of `Grounded’, `Rattled By The Rush’, `Fight This Generation’ and `Kennel District’, confirmed PAVEMENT was on the right road.
The band’s next release, the meditative and minor US breakthrough set, BRIGHTEN THE CORNERS (1997) {*7}, took a different tack again. It was clear that Malkmus’ songwriting was fast maturing, his work taking on a new depth and resonance that eschewed the stylistic grab-bag of old for a more straightforwardly direct approach. Opening UK hit single salvos, `Stereo’ and `Shady Lane’ (the former sarcastic track name-checking the voice of GEDDY LEE), plus the TOM PETTY-esque `Date w/Ikea’, the snaky charm of the album was worth taking out further inspections from time to time.
Feted by the likes of BLUR, who had previously pooh-pooh’d the American scene, PAVEMENT still remained one of “rock” music’s most resolutely individual bands. In 1999, the band secured their first UK Top 30 single with `Carrot Rope’, one of immediate and easy-going highlights (alongside `Spit On A Stranger’) on their Top 20 album, TERROR TWILIGHT {*7}. Without the many maniacal touches that spread over their previous sets, the almost weedy PAVEMENT had slowed their lo-fi pace down to a country-rock crawl. With temperatures frayed between the solo-bound STEPHEN MALKMUS, PAVEMENT broke up, although a few of them weren’t told until they read it on the internet!
© MC Strong 1994-2006 / rev-up MCS Sep2013

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