Pavement

Terror Twilight (Matador Records)

Pavement pissed me off four years ago during an outdoor show on the University of Chicago campus. From start to finish, they played with their backs turned to the audience, and Miles Davis they ain't. It was just prior to the band's stint with Lollapalooza, and Pavement had already been elevated by Spin and other alt-rock cabals way above its natural place in the scheme of things. Suddenly, this little band from Stockton, California, seemed to have been fatally damaged by indie-rock attitude and adulation. The final proof came with the release of 1997's Brighten the Corners, a smug exercise in self-satisfaction. Listening to its droning, singsong arrogance, it was hard to remember just how beautiful Pavement's music could be.

Happily, with its new Terror Twilight, Pavement has come to its senses. Simply put, its music is flat-out lovely, the sound made when a band drops its pretensions, picks up its guitars, and just plays. They've ditched the obfuscatory bullshit -- meaning, they don't bury the good songs (which are, like, all of them) beneath bad ones. They've even reverted to such traditional tacks as including a list of thank-yous on the CD cover, and, thank God, leading off the record with the best song, "Spit on a Stranger," thus leaving the listener wanting to hear more -- and more and more.

That's because it's a lilting, melodic gem -- one in a long line that includes the likes of "You Are a Light," "Major Leagues," and "Speak, See, Remember." True, by the time the end of the album is reached, the relentlessly slow tempo of a song like "The Hexx" has become a bit of a drag -- but the album's closer, "...and Carrot Rope," rivals such Pavement zeniths as "Two States," "Gold Soundz," and "Summer Babe." And if the record's mid-tempo nature is slightly reminiscent of the Meat Puppets, at least there's no boring feedback nonsense here.

Instead, Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg have chosen to use their strengths -- poetic lyrics, noodling-but-listenable guitar passages, and a sort of low-key aural humility that somehow got lost in the hectic swirl of the mid-1990s prostration-before-hipness -- to their best advantage. Of course, such musical tactics may not equal the burningly youthful charm of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Slanted and Enchanted, but you can't be that revelatory three times in the same decade. Nowadays, a band that merely uses guitars and narrative song structures sounds positively old-fashioned, like it belongs on the H.O.R.D.E. tour, not Lollapalooza. But at least they're no longer aiming at Terrastock. Now, that would be a condemnation.

 
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