Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pavement: "You Are A Light"

Pavement is universally recognized as part of the foundation of what is now commonly referred to as "indie rock". The band released five (six if you count compilations) records in the 90's that defined a genre, and fueled the inspiration of a generation. Still, of these five records, the final Pavement disc is often criminally underappreciated. Fans and critics alike will often quickly cite Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Wowee Zowee, or Brighten The Corners without giving a second thought to Terror Twilight.

Terror Twilight was released in 1999 as the band was (admittedly) on its last legs. For the record, producer Nigel Godrich was brought in to shape the sound of a band that his most famous cohorts have frequently cited as a massive influence. The result was a streamlined Pavement: more accessible, less fuzzy, and generally more polished. The All Music Guide states "All the focus makes the album feel a little less like Pavement...and a bit more like Malkmus' first solo album, which it essentially is." While this may be the author's opinion, it strikes us as a potentially uninformed one. Just because the band was cleaner and more polished, doesn't mean that they had lost their Pavement "essence". Quite to the contrary, this record demonstrates that Pavement was far more than just a sonic experiment, and that it could transcend fuzzy riffs and dischord to deliver a truly massive album.

Put simply, Terror Twilight is loaded with fantastic tracks from front to back. Tracks that redefine Pavement as a band, yet at the same time illustrate the apex of a sound they had been defining for 10 years. "...And Carrot Rope" is the height of their accessible rock number-ones-that-that-should-have-been: it's easily "Cut Your Hair" part two, if not its superior. "The Hexx" is a striking example of the band's unexplicable ability to be both a jam band and an alternative rock band at the same time. "Spit On A Stranger" is Malkmus' abstract romantic lyrics at their best, and "Major Leagues" is a pop companion to "Shady Lane". Yet, more than any of these, one track best illustrates this album's character and accomplishments: "You Are A Light".

"You Are A Light" is an epic crammed into four minutes. From the first resonating synth note (which drones throughout the song), the listener is given a feel of sonic atmosphere that is at the same time eerie and cosmic. Enter Malkmus with a surreal narrative of "brain file technology drives" and "gypsy children in electric dresses". The narrative holds up in its environment, and through the first two verses, the listener is content to imagine that Pavement has created this sonic environment to house these deconstructionist musings. Then the fun begins.

At 1:30 Malkmus enters with a fuzzed out guitar solo that dominates the entire soundscape and then fades out to give preference to its otherworldly cousins. Reverbed synths and guitars bounce back and forth across the stereo spectrum for a full minute before we are pulled back in for a bridge. It's pure fun, starting out playfully, and building to a monstrous distorted finish. The fuzz proceeds to fade into a repeated synth drone and then to a canned synth and drum machine.

Welcome to the next generation of Pavement. The band had not lost their way, Malkmus had not "taken over". Rather, they had been put in a studio with a masterful producer, and the ability to play with some new toys. "You Are A Light" is Pavement at its very best: playful but serious, abstract but crystal clear, accessible but difficult. We highly recommend you give it a listen.

mp3: Pavement - You Are A Light (YouSendIt, click through)


Anonymous said...

I agree...You are a Light is my favorite Pavement song. Incredibly beautiful.

Agent Black said...

Right on.

I think that any criticism of Terror Twilight is both lazy and ignorant. I mean honestly… name one band that has come near this record in the last 10 years?

I love every Pavement record, I love them all and Terror Twilight is no lower down on that list than anything they recorded, it’s just another twist of genius in a different style.

Personally, I think it was about time they polished their material, as they took the lo-fi thing as far as they could take it, I mean 9 years of it is enough right?

As for TT being the first Malkmus record? Give over… that's bollocks, none of Malkmus solo albums even came close.