It’s a rote refrain for 90s rock, given my extreme take on the decade, but I must clarify that Pavement did not do anything innovative whatsoever with their music. They were as irreverent and genre-blind as Beck, offering complete abstraction from the previously rebellious, emotionally-driven rock idiom. But their real symbolic invention was something more subtle. They were ironic curators and subverters of classic rock. Much like Tarantino, Linklater, and Soderbergh, they were one of the best examples of 90s culture cherry-picking the past, only in an oblique, self-aware way. The lyrics (and usually even the instrumental performance) of any given Pavement song seem halfway like some sort of elaborate inside joke.
One reason that the band’s b-sides are so good is that there’s very little separating them from the album cuts. Everything has an attitude of being casually tossed off, though I suspect there was more thought put into the songs than is immediately obvious. (Sidenote: if you like their stuff, the expanded rereleases of each album are well worth getting. The general public are still waiting on that last LP’s reissue, though.)
I’ll forewarn you; it’s hard to adjust to the way they write songs. It’s very messy, rambling, tangential and slightly out of key. The guys also enjoy bizarre, obscure phrasing. But the basics are all still there. You just have to be well versed in song structures and pattern detecting (and forgiving of technical missteps) to follow some of them.
Pavement is mostly included here to paint a more complete picture; to illustrate that behind all the big-name acts of the 90s, there were pop pranksters just doing their own thing. This band was the ramshackle, enigmatic extreme. They refused to go mainstream, but their sound and singles came awfully close for a while. Their music videos are genius pieces of surrealism. And their attitude is always flippant, yet surprisingly warm. Their music became slower and more obtuse with age: Wowee Zowee finds them in between classic rock, moody ballads, new wave and punk. It’s my favorite of their records because it’s so discursive, which is the Pavement essence. “Flux = Rad”, whatever that means.
Key track: “Grave Architecture”
See also: Slanted And Enchanted – Pavement (1992), Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – Pavement (1994), Brighten the Corners – Pavement (1997), Terror Twilight – Pavement (1999)