Pavement: Songs We Love

Hear Some Of Pavement's Best, With Commentary From NPR Staff

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After a messy break-up, Pavement has reunited and embarked on a 2010 world tour. Gail Butensky hide caption

itoggle caption Gail Butensky
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After a messy break-up, Pavement has reunited and embarked on a 2010 world tour.

Gail Butensky

Pavement is no less seminal than the plaid shirts on its members' backs. Sure, Stephen Malkmus, Mark Ibold, Spiral Stairs, Bob Nastanovich and Steve West are some of history's greatest thieves; Mark E. Smith even called Pavement on its Fall worship. If Malkmus and company didn't sound so bored by it all, they might be The Beatles of the '90s, taking a little bit of everything and making it better. But that's rock 'n' roll, right? Our greatest musicians aren't necessarily inventors; they're riff-rodents and note-nickers.

Despite Beavis and Butt-Head's claim that Pavement "weren't trying hard enough," the truth of it is, these guys knew exactly what they were doing. The anti-guitar solos, disaffected vocals, instantly memorable lyrical non-sequiturs and unmade song structures — these weren't so much statements as pop-culture indictments.

The weird thing was that it worked. Turn to anyone with even a limited indie-rock background and say, "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? / How did it get so high / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy." The immediate answer will be, "I know him. And he does."

Ten years after the band's official breakup, Pavement is back together — and already on a tour that will take up the better part of 2010. And, after a drama-filled split, it looks like it's having a damn good time. Quarantine the Past seems like a fitting title, then, for the band's first ever best-of compilation, which comes out March 9. It certainly has a bunch of our favorite Pavement songs, which you can read about below, but we'd love hear about yours in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Pavement: Songs We Love

Cover for Slanted & Enchanted

Emily Ochsenschlager, NPR Producer

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Slanted & Enchanted
  • Song: Summer Babe (Winter Version)

The girl in this song -- the one mixing cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar -- is the kind of badass that girls want to be and that boys want to date. She's surrounded by a humid summer haze of guitars and drums, with enough reverb to recall hints of The Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray," while still keeping its feet firmly planted in '90s territory. Maybe it's a testament to my own youth (or my eternal affinity for the '90s drama My So-Called Life), but I think of the hundreds of Angela Chases and Jordan Catalanos who inevitably found themselves relating to the repetitive mantra: "Every time I sit around, I find I'm shot."

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Song
Summer Babe (Winter Version)
Album
Slanted & Enchanted
Artist
Pavement
Label
Matador
Released
1992

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Cover for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Lars Gotrich, NPR Music

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
  • Song: Cut Your Hair

I feel like most of my memories about Pavement involve girls; the chasing after and the likely failure of said chase. It was the perfect Michael Cera movie set-up, really: After singing "Cut Your Hair" around a microphone and a friend's acoustic guitar, she danced in red- and black-striped stockings, enraptured in giggles. Like any good music geek, I immediately fell for her. We could awkwardly yell "No big hair!" at the third verse, debate whether Stephen Malkmus sings "Korea, Korea, Korea" or "Career, career, career" (it's the latter, by the way), and maybe even end the song/relationship seven different times. Maybe Pavement fandom isn't something to look for in a girlfriend, after all.

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Song
Cut Your Hair
Album
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Artist
Pavement
Label
Big Cat Records
Released
1994

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Cover for Brighten the Corners

Maureen Clements, NPR Librarian

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Brighten the Corners
  • Song: Stereo

"Stereo," the first tune off Pavement's 1997 album Brighten the Corners, is about as iconic a Pavement song as they come, and well-deserving of its place on Quarantine the Past. The guitars are great, the bass is even better and, if you haven't memorized the infamous lyrics about the soprano-like quality of Geddy Lee's voice, then you may want to reconsider your stature as a Pavement fan. It's a line that should be bronzed and put in the indie-rock-quote hall of fame.

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Song
Stereo
Album
Brighten the Corners
Artist
Pavement
Label
Domino Recording Company USA
Released
1997

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Cover for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Stephen Thompson, NPR Music

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
  • Song: Gold Soundz

"Gold Soundz" exemplifies virtually everything about the early- to mid-'90s college-radio world in which I came of age: an aversion to the appearance of effort, an ironic "Z" in the title, wry self-consciousness that extended to the meta announcement at the end of the first verse ("and they're comin' to the chorus now..."). Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain came out during my last semester of college -- in 1994, for heaven's sake -- and in all the ways cited above, it sounds exactly like a product of its era; archness and irony, cast in amber. But it's not that simple, and Stephen Malkmus knew it, even back then. Late in "Gold Soundz," he slyly drops a phrase that dispenses wise advice while inadvertently giving his band's career retrospective a title: "You can never quarantine the past."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Gold Soundz
Album
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Artist
Pavement
Label
Big Cat Records
Released
1994

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cover for shady lane

Mike Katzif, NPR Music

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Brighten the Corners
  • Song: Shady Lane

Like many, I suppose, I was first drawn to Stephen Malkmus' lazy-cool attitude and tricky wordplay. I first heard Pavement in high school, shortly after Brighten the Corners came out, and because it was the first one I heard, it'll always be my favorite of Pavement's nearly flawless run. With its angular guitar lines, bursts of dissonance and off-kilter yet graceful melodies, the band sounded different from most of the music I was into at the time. I pored over Malkmus' elusive, oblique lyrics, which were delivered in his iconic disaffected, plainspoken ramble. Pavement's observational and almost always funny anti-anthems spoke of boredom, frustration and, ultimately, muted apathy; something director Spike Jonze expertly portrayed in his now-classic music video for "Shady Lane" that depicted a headless, singing Stephen Malkmus. In that song, like so many, he was finding meaning in the mundane and absurd. Lines such as "You've been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life" -- from "Shady Lane/J vs. S" -- often made it difficult to gauge between sincerity and sarcasm. But growing up in one of those sleepy suburbs Malkmus depicts in "Shady Lane," I connected with that feeling. I still do.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Shady Lane
Album
Brighten the Corners
Artist
Pavement
Label
Domino Recording Company USA
Released
1997

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cover for Here

Sami Yenigun, NPR Music

  • Artist: Pavement
  • Album: Slanted & Enchanted
  • Song: Here

Like so many of my favorite songs, "Here" brushed my eardrums at exactly the right point in my life -- when they were most responsive to the somber roll of bass kick and snare, to the casually strummed lead guitar and to the deflated tone of Malkmus' lyrics. I find comfort in its melancholy. It reminds me that music has the power to soothe in sad times, and that there's an outlet for bitterness in bittersweet melody.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Here
Album
Slanted & Enchanted
Artist
Pavement
Label
Big Cat Records
Released
1992

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Purchase Featured Music

Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement
Artist
Pavement
Label
Matador
Released
2010

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Comments

 

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