Appreciating Pavement

This will be quick and unorganized because I'm in the middle of a whole lot of studying.

I'm trying not to get into the habit of being that prick who's always complaining about other people's articles, but you have to expect something like this when you try to pay homage to a band like Pavement without having much of a clue what you're talking about. Here's the piece, and here's my response:

"Paper Radio," as it's called, is the weekly playlist compiled by some guy I've never met before over at the Herald. It's a stupid concept alright, but there's no question this guy's better at it than the last one. The latest installment is a Pavement-based script trying "to see where Pavement came from, what they've been up to and who they've inspired." Right on.

I'll forgive the mention of Pavement's reunion running alongside a modern lo-fi revival (were they really the source of that? unlikely) and their end to animosity (they never actually broke up, they just went on hiatus; it's pretty well documented that Malkmus was the only one ever opposed to a reunion, and it was mostly just so he could feel out his solo jaunt a little longer).

Lou Reed as an influence is pretty straightforward (even if a bit of a scapegoat, but whatever), but I'm not sure I'm on board with his assertion that Malkmus is a poor singer (for proof see "Jenny and the Ess Dog" off Malkmus' self-titled joint). The point of Malkmus isn't that he's a poor singer (again, I disagree with that anyways, but for what it's worth there are probably just as many songs you could point to where he comes off sharp or flat), but that he never cared much for singing (or trying not to sound sharp or flat). It seemed like a hassle. He was too cool to be singing. That's where Reed really comes in: They were both too cool. That also sounds amateurish. Whatever, next song.

I'm not sure how often Pavement gets called "the most British American band," nor am I sure how often Echo & the Bunnymen get called E & the Bs. I understand the idea, though, and it's true. And even though it is pretty lazy saying Pavement sounds like a band they've covered on record, it's still an apt comparison. The only part that doesn't make sense is the bit about the Cure and Interpol. Fact is, Interpol would not need a time machine to collaborate with a band that has released two albums since Interpol's first. But even if the point of it was that Interpol would be collaborating with an in-their-prime Cure, why wouldn't they just collaborate with Joy Division, who were still releasing albums when the Cure recorded "Boys Don't Cry"? Joy Division's a better touchstone anyways (they actually were an influence, not just some band that kinda/sorta sounded like Pavement and followed five years afterward).

I won't get too into the Spiral Stairs and SM & the Jicks appearances on this list. Go figure, two principal songwriters in Pavement went on to write songs that sounded like Pavement after the group split. For a band that more or less spearheaded indie music and had their hands in 80-90% of all indie music over the last decade-plus, this list of Pavement followers is pretty sad.

The Spoon bit, though the only follower mentioned worth mentioning, is the one that really bolls me over. Spoon is a direct descendant of Pavement, sure, but I don't buy all this minimalism garbage. Pavement wasn't all that minimalist, and while they flexed a bit of the studio-sounds-on-wax schtick Spoon has since mastered, it was nothing Pixies hadn't done before. Instrumentally, Spoon is a stripped-down Pavement, but there are other things at play. What makes Pavement so paramount to Spoon is in the vocals. Britt Daniel draws the same loose portraits in the same off-handed breeziness with the same deftness that Malkmus perfected.

Arguably Pavement's biggest influence on rock is an aesthetic and paradigmatic one. Pavement showed that punk rock didn't need to be aggressive or drug-induced. There's a semi-famous dialogue in which, during one of Pavement's first shows opening for some punk group (I want to say Black Flag, but don't quote me on that), Malkmus was literally shaken after seeing a band member mix some substance into his drink. The dialogue goes on to where Malkmus admits it was probably just some sort of cough medicine or pain killer, but the point is that he was writing Slanted & Enchanted while still incredibly naive of punk culture. And the naivety is what allowed pioneers like Belle and Sebastian to wear sweaters and still be accepted so universally. Pavement was beloved by even the most thuggish bikers, but they'd show up to shows wearing NBA fleeces. The yardstick wasn't based on some metric of roguishness applied to pins on a jacket or studs on a shoulder anymore, but on the head that's atop those shoulders. Pavement drew the line between pop and punk without ostracizing either because they didn't sacrifice either, and that opened the door between the two. I could go on another tangent about the role of post-punk in this whole dynamic, but frankly I don't have the time right now. The point is, that gateway is littered with a lot of highs and lows in pop music, but the glue that cements it in place is Pavement.

And please don't ever refer to them as "the Pavers."

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