Pavement Gets Psychedelic With Brighten The Corners

Pavement, with Brighten the Corners, has succeeded in gaining the

sort of indie-rock buzz that used to be their forte. And deservedly so.

Playful, free-associative lyrics, indelibly joyous classic-rock riffs,

mixed with a teenager's enthusiasm mixed with a twentysomething's cynicism

all combine to create the type of album that mailing lists are fawning

over, reviewers are praising, and people are generally talking about

it. (Perhaps or perhaps not relevant: the fact that Brighten the

Corners is the only Pavement album proper not to have a rhyming title:

Slanted and Enchanted, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and the

aforementioned Wowee Zowee preceded it in '92, '94, and '95,

respectively.)

The album starts with the infectious, anthemic "Stereo," which has already

produced the rock world's weirdest reference to Rush's Geddy Lee as well

as some hope that, after a discouraging 1996, 1997 will produce good,

occasionally even great music that you can throw on, get in a car with

your friends, and listen to really loudly while driving around with the

windows down. With Steve Malkmus's vocals and Mark Ibold's bass mixed more

prominently (Brighten the Corners was recorded by Mitch Easter, who

worked with R.E.M. on the equally vocally perplexing Murmur, and

Bryce Goggin), Malkmus consistently flirts with the listener, no more so

than in a song-song sliver of nonsense: "Wave to the camera / It took a

giant ramrod"...but nonsense that means something, man. Indeed,

it's hard to tell whether Malkmus is being smugly self-aware--"I'm on the

stereo / My baby baby baby" he shouts during the chorus--or endearingly

deprecating--this line is followed by "Gave me malaria hysteria." As on

Crooked Rain's "Range Life," where most folks ignored the subtle

"I've/they've don't got function" in the midst of his diss of the Smashing

Pumpkins, Malkmus's lyrics are impishly coquettish throughout the album.

Brighten the Corners, which Matador head-honcho Gerard Cosloy takes

the time to inform people in a press release, is the first album which

Pavement really recorded as a band; previously, tracks would be laid down

one by one. And it really does show: Pavement occupies a dissonant,

inevitable space that they leaned towards in both Slanted and

Enchanted and Crooked Rain but which they traded for a more

classic pop, even country-ish outlook on Wowee Zowee; a space that

is more tightly pinned down than their previous efforts but at the same

time is thrillingly exciting, seemingly on the verge of spinning out of

control.

While "Stereo" propels Brighten the Corners out of the starting

gate, the band immediately pulls back with a series of ballad-like

pieces--the romantic nonsense and wistfully melodic "Shady Lane," evoking

teenage innocence and endless possibilities; the slightly obsessive

"Transport is Arranged;" the desperation of "Old to Begin;" the plaintive

"Type Slowly," which Ibold marks with (Grateful Dead's) Phil Lesh-style

melodic bombs. Throughout, Malkmus and Spiral Stairs (n e Scott

Kannenberg) weave single notes and bursts of feedback in and out of each

other, fusing classic-rock lines and frustrated outbursts around each

other. The album takes off again on "Embassy Row," which erupts halfway

through and transforms from a languid stroll into a frenzied sprint,

complete with a climaxing guitar solo and Malkmus's screaming. Brighten

the Corners is also the most psychedelic Pavement album to date, with

drones, chants, and odd bits of percussion scattered throughout the album.

Pavement has been both loved and loathed for the particular link they

represent that stretches between classic and indie rock, but whatever one

thinks of this approach, it's hard not to admit this is a masterful album,

with even some hints thrown out to dance and electronic music to spice up

the mix. While not perfect, it is the type of work that is exciting, even

thrilling at times. There's not that much music that's truly inspiring,

that invigorates the listeners with a sense of limitless possibilities.

And Brighten the Corners is that type of album.