I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Pavement since the early 90s. I can relate to almost all of the common criticisms: They weren’t as good after they fired the original drummer; they get credit for starting “lo-fi” when they emerged at the tail end of the movement; they were too “ironic” to be taken seriously; they sing too much (OK, I got that last one from my lovely fiancee).
But I also think that most of these critiques miss the point. Their third EP was called Perfect Sound Forever, and pretty much summed up the Pavement idea as far as I’m concerned. Take the best parts of the Velvet Underground, The Fall, Sonic Youth, and Jesus & Mary Chain; add a uniquely American sense of humor and lots of beer and weed; throw in a blender; puree. The result was the ultimate indie rock party band. I laughed, I cried, I almost wrecked my first car singing along to “From Now On.” The debut album Slanted and Enchanted was the natural progression from those early EPs, and was the first thing I heard by Pavement. As far as I was concerned, I had found my favorite band. (I can’t thank Josh Doerger enough for lending me these cassettes back in ’92.)
A series of brilliant Peel Sessions and one amazing EP followed the album, and my expectations for the second record were so high that they could never possibly be met. This was when I was still young and thought that bands could be brilliant forever. Had I fewer preconceptions, I might have been as impressed by Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain as everyone else was. Instead I was deflated, publicly wondering “what is this country bullshit?”
That summer I rediscovered Crooked Rain and now admit that it’s a classic; the album Pavement needed to make in order to move forward. But the remainder of their career was hit or miss. For every “Rattled by the Rush” there was a “Carrot Rope” lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce. The mushy album version of “The Hexx” is made even sadder when contrasted with a live BBC session that has circulated online, where the band performs the song with an intensity lacking on most of their recorded output. Spiral Stairs can be heard at the end of the song remarking, “death to irony! That song just rocked.” This was proof that Pavement had never really lost their ability to make great “serious” music, nor had they lost their sense of humor. But by the time this version was making the rounds on Napster, Pavement had called it quits.
Which brings us to the present day. Pavement have reformed for a series of festival dates, and they have a “greatest hits” retrospective coming out. Matador Records had a contest to see who could guess the track-listing. Of course I took the plunge, and proceeded to whittle down Matador’s 100 song “pool” into 23 tracks that would somehow summarize the band’s strengths, while covering their entire career. The BBC sessions were not in the pool, and only one compilation track could be chosen. Most of the B-sides were also missing. This automatically ruled out a lot of my favorites. Still, I had an extremely difficult time deciding what to leave out.
That’s when I realized: if I’m having trouble narrowing it down to 23 songs, this band must have been pretty fucking good.
I decided early on to go for the second prize category, “most imaginative.” It would have been boring to just list all the songs I know are popular among Pavement fans and critics. So while I couldn’t put all my favorites, I tried to make something that I could be proud of while covering most of the bases.
The first place winner has already been announced (he got 17 of 23 right; I got 15.) I don’t expect to win the second place category, because I never win anything. And I have a tendency to sequence my compilations similar to the albums the tracks originate from (I had like five “track 2” songs in a row). But it doesn’t matter, because I had a blast making this thing, and it has made me want to go back and listen to all the Pavement albums, B-sides, Peel sessions, and live tracks all over again.
Quarantine the Past Contest Winner and Track List
Were Pavement the best American indie rock band of the 90s? Were they better than GBV or Sebadoh? It doesn’t matter. To quote Stephen Malkmus in an awesome compilation track that didn’t make my list: “It sounds good in my car, so it must be a hit.”
Here is my Pavement “best of” submission. I’ll try to post it as an actual playlist later. Feel free to make your own, I shan’t judge…
1. Gold Soundz
3. Debris Slide
4. Shady Lane/J Vs. S
5. Rattled By The Rush
6. Trigger Cut / Wounded-Kite At:17
10. Range Life
11. Father To A Sister Of Thought
13. Embassy Row
14. She Believes
15. Cut Your Hair
16. Date w/IKEA
18. Silence Kit
19. Summer Babe (Winter Version)
20. Cream Of Gold
21. Perfect Depth
22. In The Mouth A Desert
23. Shoot The Singer (1 Sick Verse)