>Album Review: "Real Emotional Trash" by Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks

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I really shouldn’t like Steve Malkmus’s voice. He has this sarcastic, flippant affectation to his singing that would probably grate the hell out of me were I… well, anybody else. Even in his most dramatic moments, his voice sounds like somebody with an inside joke caught in their head – an inside joke that they find really funny and one that you, the listener, wound never get in a million years. Basically, he sounds like an asshole. A talented asshole, but an asshole nonetheless.

Yet I love it. I’ve listened to Pavement so much that his voice sounds like that of an old friend, and even his smart-alecky I-am-better-than-you attitude makes me swoon. This is because, unlike most, Malkmus knows how to USE his voice, somehow figuring out how to sound uncaring and majestic at the same time. Who the hell knows how to do that? Lou Reed? That’s the only other example I can think of. Again, there is some serious talent behind that asshole of a voice, and if you’ve got talent you can get away with a lot.

And that goes for his songwriting too, which is why he’s had the most (critically) successful solo career of any other Pavement graduate – he was their lead singer/songwriter, after all, and their last album was practically a dry-run for his solo stuff. Now, I only have one of Malkmus’s solo works, and that’s his self-titled debut. I dug it – there’s a lot of numbers on there that could easily stand up with some of Pavement’s later works, and it genuinely sounded like Malkmus was enjoying the freedom afforded by working on his own (even though he had plenty of freedom in Pavement, but whatever).

Upon first listen, “Real Emotional Trash” didn’t do much for me. I played it once, found it pleasant, and didn’t play it again for another couple weeks or so. See, I kind of have this bad habit of building my expectations up way too high when listening to a hyped-up album, and when it doesn’t sound exactly like I want it to sound, I ignore it. The first time I listened to “Automatic for the People,” it did nothing for me and I didn’t listen to it again for months – the next time I put it on, it all of the sudden sounded like the best album I’d heard in years. It is a weird habit of mine, and unfortunately one that “Trash” fell victim too. While my hopes for it weren’t monumental, it quickly became background noise, and I didn’t like it as much as Malkmus’s charmingly carefree debut. It was too dour, too jammy, and the tracks were too long for my tastes.

Then, of course, I listened to it a second time and got a real kick out of it. No, this is not the same sound of Malkmus’s debut, but I’ll be damned if I don’t like this incarnation of Malkmus even better. “Trash” is the kind of album you could call a “guitar album” – you know, lots of long interlocking guitar solos, careening along with a slow-burnin’ rockin’ vibe that either becomes more and more interesting upon each listen or a constant chore to sit through. I don’t like most jam-based albums, so I’ll give due credit to the Jicks that this album falls into the former category – like Television’s “Marquee Moon” and Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the solos are melodic and oftentimes very pretty, and the band itself sounds tight and in control, without any aimless wank-noodlin’ that make bands like the Mars Volta grate my virgin ears. Malkmus has been playing with the Jicks for almost a decade now (yikeroo), so I guess it’s natural to hear them so comfortable and focused.

And yeah, those guitars, they just sound cool. Fuzzy as all hell, jumpy, slow when they need to be but never boring, even on the ten-minute title track that seems to burn right on by without ever feeling ten minutes long. But man, it ain’t just the guitars – there’s an occasional piano, some electronics, and solid drumming from ex-Sleater Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. And of course, there’s Malkmus’s charming-asshole voice, shifting between disaffected cool and crafty sweetness constantly, with his usual cache of overly-intellectual lyrics that means nothing but are fun as hell to sing along with. Take the ending of “Wicked Wanda”: “Strike me square / Into the arms of the air” – or the ending of “Hopscotch Willie”: “Willie was found not far from the scene / He was pantin’ like a pitbull minus the mean.” You don’t need to know exactly what the “meaning” behind those lyrics are, they’re just cool and they sound good. You can’t say that about many lyrics. Even better is when he gets some backing vocal accompaniment from his female bandmates (there’s two of them, damnit, I don’t know which one is singing – jeez, Malkmus, why you lettin’ dames in your band). They give songs like “Gardenia” and “We Can’t Help You” a sunny, laid-back vibe that I find irresistible.

Oh and hey, there’s songs on this album, too! I will admit, one of the reasons I didn’t gravitate towards this album immediately is ’cause lots of the songs sound the same, but not in a bad way! They meld together, man, if you can totally dig that concept. The whole thing sounds like the Jicks just hangin’ out and jammin’ out some songs together in one night, so while the band does sound kinda similar track to track, they make the album a seamless affair – “Dragonfly Pie” burns right into “Hopscotch Willie,” and leads right into “Cold Son”. They’re all darker, minor-key rockers, but they’re cool. I have to admit, though, that while the longer tracks are great and are never boring, my favorite song here is the shortest – “Gardenia,” clocking in at that classic pop-single length of 2:50, is such a fun song that I can’t help listening to it over and over. Also I have no idea why Malkmus would compare anybody to a shrub, but y’know, this is the same guy who penned the classic line “Now I’m getting older / Maybe I’d like to fuck a woman and make one.”

But “Real Emotional Trash”, at the end of the day, is just a confident, rockin’ album by a solid band led by the most talented prick in rock ‘n roll. I don’t know if the Jicks have made an album like this one before – apparently “Pig Lib” was pretty dark, but I’ve never heard it. Pitchfork gave this one a 6.8, but you know, they gave “Zaireeka” a 0.0 so there is no trusting those shifty indie fussbudgets. A friend of mine suggested that they ripped on “Trash” ’cause they hold Pavement to such a high standard, but fuck that – I love Pavement more than life itself and “Trash” gets me goin’. I guess they just want Malkmus to sound goofy and unpredictable, and an album as confident as this one gets their goat. Better theory: they’re a bunch of assholes.

So yeah, check it out! I didn’t like it at first, but I am a fool of a took. Now I listen to it like every day. But enough of my yakkin’ – slip the CD in your stereo, turn those speakers up and get your groove on with the best damn jam record of 2008.

Oh, and if you think smoking weed will make this album better, you’re probably an asshole.

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>Chance Encounters: A Teleplay Featuring Sean Rose (Based on a True Story)

>ACT I

(20-year-old music snob SEAN ROSE sits alone in his dorm room. We see a calendar next to his desk that reads “2005.” He is listening to The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” on his iPod. Appearing angry, he turns the song off.)

Sean Rose: Jeez, I don’t like this song. The Killers suck, and Brandon Flowers is an asshole.

(There is a LOUD KNOCK at the door.)

Sean Rose: Wow, who in the world could that be?

(Sean Rose gets up and opens the door, only to see Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, wearing Bowie-era makeup. He appears upset.)

Sean Rose: Wow, Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers! What are you doing here, in my neck of the woods?

Brandon Flowers: Oh, I don’t know. Just in the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but overhear – you don’t like my music??

Sean Rose: Well, no, Brandon Flowers. In fact if your band were to break up tomorrow, I would be a happy man.

Brandon Flowers: Well, I wouldn’t want to make you upset, Sean Rose. How ’bout I make you a deal. You give me the name of a band you really like, and hey, we’ll do something like them!

Sean Rose: No, no thanks. I just plain don’t like your music.

Brandon Flowers: Come on, man! We’re the Killers – we can do ANYTHING.

(Brandon Flowers peeks into Sean’s room and notices a few Bruce Springsteen albums in Sean’s record collection. His eyebrows raise with anticipation.)

Brandon Flowers: Hey… you like Bruce Springsteen?

Sean Rose: Uh, yeah I guess. Why do you-

Brandon Flowers: Don’t you worry about a thing, my good buddy Sean Rose. We’ll win you over yet!!

(Brandon Flowers runs down the hall, a spring in his step. Sean Rose appears confused.)

Sean Rose: Jeez. What was all THAT business about?

ACT II

(Sean Rose sits alone in a brand-new, slightly bigger dorm room. A strategically-placed television next to him displays the year as “2006”. Sean Rose listens to My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” on his computer, but quickly turns it off.)

Sean Rose: Jeez, I sure do not like My Chemical Romance. They are formulaic and can’t write a decent song. I wish they-

(Out of the blue, Gerard Way – famed lead singer of My Chemical Romance – walks by Sean Rose’s window on a whim. He peeks his long-haired head into the room with a large grin on his face.)

Gerard Way: Hey there Sean! Thought I heard you talkin’ ’bout my band.

Sean Rose: Whoa, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance! What are you doing here??

Gerard Way: Oh, I dunno, I vacation up in Storrs from time to time. Keeps me focused. I’m a little upset, though, you don’t sound too enthused with my biggest-selling hit single.

Sean Rose: Well, not really, no.

(Gerard glances over and notices a few Queen albums in Sean Rose’s CD collection.)

Gerard Way: Oh hey, Sean… you a Queen fan?

Sean Rose: What?

Gerard Way: Yeah. Oh, nothing. I just saw that Queen album over there, and I thought you’d… well…

Sean Rose: Why do you-

Gerard Way: GOTTA GO!

(Gerard Way runs down the street, leaping over railings with inexplicable tenacity.)

Sean Rose: What an unusual life I lead.

ACT III

(Sean Rose watches the Youtube video of Panic! At The Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” in a newer, even bigger dorm room. A New York Times stapled to the wall reveals the year “2008” in large print.)

Sean Rose: My word. Panic! At the Disco are surely the worst rock band in the history of music.

(Out of nowhere, Brandon Urie – boyish lead singer of Panic! At the Disco – leaps out from under Sean Rose’s bedsheets. He tips his bowler hat and smiles wide.)

Sean Rose: What the shit, Brandon Urie? What the hell were you doing in my bed??

Brandon Urie: Oh I don’t know. Relaxing, dreaming… of wonderful new days to come. Say, I heard through the grapevine that you aren’t too fond of “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.”

Sean Rose: Please leave my room, Brandon. I don’t know how you got in here, but you frighten me to the bone.

(Brandon Urie glances over at Sean’s desk, noticing an unusual glass cup.)

Brandon Urie: Is that a Yellow Submarine cup, Sean? Do you like the Beatles??

Sean Rose: What? No, wait. You aren’t going to-

Brandon Urie: You like Sgt. Pepper’s, right? Wouldn’t you like it if we made another Sgt. Pepper’s??

Sean Rose: Please, no, please don’t-

Brandon Urie: AND I’M OFF!

(Brandon Urie jumps back into Sean’s bed, disappearing under the sheets. Baffled, Sean goes to check his bed; he pulls the sheets away, but there is nobody there.)

Sean Rose: I am a lost child.

EPILOGUE

(Sean Rose sits alone in a beautiful house, entirely made out of the rarest ivory. LCD television screens cover the walls, each displaying the year “2010” in brilliant white. As Sean plays his giant diamond-studded piano, a bit of Linkin Park’s “Minutes To Midnight” plays on TV.)

Sean Rose: My word, what drivel.

(Out of the blue, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda poke their heads out of Sean Rose’s piano.)

Chester Bennington: Isn’t that a Bob Dylan poster over there?

Mike Shinoda: Yeah, man, it is.

Chester Bennington: Ok cool, we’ve got a new musical direction. Now let’s get the fuck outta here. We don’t want those guard dogs on our asses again.

Mike Shinoda: Yeah, but he’s gonna see us.

Chester Bennington: Don’t worry, man! Just bail!!

(Chester and Mike jump out of the piano, knocking Mr. Rose down as they trample over him and run away. Sean, perturbed, raises a monocle to his eye.)

Sean Rose: I say. I have been harangued.

>Youtubin’ Live Music

>If the advent of internet video sites such as Youtube has done anything for me, it has provided me with a wealth of great, easily accessible live music performances. I don’t know if most people use Youtube for this – maybe they just use it for high-tech vlogging or finding ways to play Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on a PSP. But it is really surprising how many great live rock performances I have found, at random, on Youtube.

I don’t know. Maybe it is because I am obsessed with rock music and the moment I hear a band I really like, I become immediately curious as to how they function as a live band. And now, in the crazy high-tech future year of 2008, I just type in a band and a song into Youtube’s search bar and voila! Live performances and music videos! This is Web 2.0 people!!!

But really, Youtube a fantastic resource for my obsession with live rock music. Why don’t I share some of my favorite videos with you. I know you would just love that.

(Note: If you don’t like or don’t care about any of the bands I post videos of here, you will not enjoy this post. I apologize in advance.)

One of the first videos I stumbled upon that showed me the true prowess of Youtube was a clip of R.E.M.’s first ever performance on television, doing Letterman way back in 1983. I’d heard about this performance somewhere on allmusic.com or something, so out of curiosity I searched for it on Youtube – and they, there it was.

And it’s a real cool video (unless you hate R.E.M. or something)! Michael Stipe has curly hair! Mike Mills looks like a child! David Letterman!!

The next video you could call an oddity – Nirvana, Top Of The Pops, ’91, doing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Here’s the thing about Top Of The Pops – most of the time, the band will mime playing their instruments to a backing track, and only the vocalist will actually sing live. And once in a blue moon, some particularly prickish bands will blatantly call attention to this by flailing around, not bothering to even look like they’re playing their instruments, and singing in a voice that sounds nothing like the actual recording.

Guess what Nirvana did.

There are more videos I could post but I’ll save them for another time. My only regret a this point is that I can’t find this amazing Van Morrison performance anywhere – a video of him doing “Cyprus Avenue” in 1970 in what has to be one of the most badass rock performance’s I’ve ever seen. But it’s gone! Alack. Maybe I’ll be able to find it next time.

Maybe.

>Five Fun Selections From My Nostalgia Playlist

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Eiffel 65: Kings Of Cool

For a big chunk of my teenage years – say, from ’99 to ’03 or so – I listened to the radio. A lot. I’m talking morning, noon, night, whenever I got the chance. Hell, it listened to it in my sleep, to the point where I had trouble sleeping if the radio WASN’T on (a quirk that I still have yet to shake). Before long, I knew every song that played front-to-back, every lyric and every note. Backstreet Boys, Enrique Iglesias, the Offspring, fuckin’ Vertical Horizon – you name it.

Did I like all the songs I listened to? No, not really. But that didn’t matter. To me, whatever music was playing on the radio (New Haven’s KC101, to be exact) was THE music, and that was it. I rarely bought CDs or downloaded music as a kid – it was all the radio. So even if I didn’t love every song that played, I KNEW every song pretty damn well. Not that I admitted this to anybody at the time, of course. My pop music obsession was confined to me and my basement. If people knew that I had the lyrics to “Backstreet’s Back” down to a science, I would not be viewed well by middle school society.

Anyway, not too long ago I decided to compile as many of these old songs together – as many as I could remember – and keep them in a super-special iTunes playlist. Since my tastes in music have become infinitely more snobbish in the years that have passed, I obviously view these songs in a totally different light (by that I mean, I feel like I am above them. You know, ’cause I’m cool and I like Pavement and shit).

But some of these songs still really get a rise out of me. Even if it’s just a reminder of times passed, it’s something, and I find myself listening to them a lot more than I expect.

So HEY – why not put my playlist on random and talk about a few of these songs? Who wants some cheap nostalgia?? I know I do.

Song 1: “Steal My Sunshine” by LEN

You know, this is still a fun song! It’s real summery, man. Very upbeat, cutesy vocals, very sweet and lightweight. I’m especially fond of it because it came out during the summer of ’99, which might have been my favorite summer ever even though I barely remember it. But I was 12 and dumb, so it must have been great.

It’s a cotton-candy song. Sweet and delicious. The main singer guy has this kinda raspy voice, but then there’s this girl with this very high-pitched cute voice. There’s lyrics about making sticky buns. The cute-girl-voice sings “If you steal my sunshine!” for every verse. Like, it’s very very happy. But it’s such a sweet relic of the late 90’s that I can’t help but love it. Apparently LEN was a rap group, but shit, you could never tell from this song. Maybe that’s why they fizzled out so quickly – people bought their album expecting sunshiney-pop like this, and they got sub-Beastie Boys rhymes. Hmm.

Jesus, this song came out the same year that “Nookie” did. I can’t even believe that.

Song 2: “Angel of Mine” – Monica

This isn’t much of a song – your basic 90’s RnB ballad, nothing to write home about. But I have kind of a funny story about it so let me divulge.

When I was in middle school, we had lots of dances. Like, every month, all us 6th-graders would huddle into our gym, dim the lights down low, and engage in a few hours of awkward awkward dancing while “Rockefeller Skank” played over and over. The closest thing any of us came to any kind of intimacy was when a couple started hugging during a slow song. That was pretty much it.

Naturally, being the chicken-shit little nerd I was, I avoided this “dancing” business like the plague. I would always find some excuse – I’d leave the gym, I’d hold on to a glass of punch, I’d sit alone and keep my head down, you name it. Hell, I even chatted up some of the teachers chaperoning. In a word, I was pathetic, but I didn’t care. I was scared to death of physical contact with a female. Occasionally my good friend Rob Schwartz – ever the ladies man – would attempt to break me out of my shell and hook me up with a girl (sometimes forcefully). But I never yielded.

Except for once, of course. This one time I was executing my never-fail “sit down and bury head in arms” technique when a random girl tapped me on the shoulder. Looking up, I saw that she was tall, kinda lanky, but not remarkably unattractive. She took charge immediately.

“You wanna dance?”
“Uhh, yeah, I guess so.”

So we danced. My arms were on her shoulders the whole time, and we never made eye contact. I was too busy looking over at Rob, clearly awestruck; frantically he mouthed “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” at me and I mouthed “I HAVE NO IDEA” back. It was a surreal moment.

And, umm, “Angel of Mine” by Monica was playing.

After the dance was over it turned out that it was a pity dance. You know, she saw a little kid cowering in the corner and figured that I was upset that I had nobody to dance with. The truth was so much more pathetic than that.

That was the only time I ever danced in middle school. I forget the girl’s name, but I think he got married in high school or something.

So that’s my “Angel of Mine” story. I hope you enjoyed it. Moving on!

Song 3: “I’ve Seen Better Days” by Citizen King

Oh jeez, another song from ’99? I’m noticing a trend here.

This is another song from that summer. It’s not a bad one, but a somewhat generic one. I see this song on a lot on P2P programs listed as a Sublime song, and it’s not surprising – it’s pretty much a total Sublime ripoff, as many bands were at the time. You know, it’s got that vaguely white-boy hip-hoppish vibe. But it’s kind of a catchy song.

Why I’ll never forget this song, though, is because it was used in that great scene in the pilot of “Malcolm in the Middle”, where Stevie tricks a bully into punching him, causing all of Malcolm’s class to go after the bully for hurting a crippled kid. That’s how Malcolm and Stevie became friends. It’s just endearing, isn’t it?

Man I loved that show. Didn’t it kinda suck in its later seasons? I stopped watching around sophomore year of high school.

Song 4: “Adam’s Song” by Blink-182

OK, I don’t hate Blink-182. I could, because in the scheme of things they are kind of a lame band. But they’ve still got some songs that strike a chord with me, or at least did at the time. That’s not surprising, since they were a band tailor-made for middle-schoolers. And I sure was in middle school!

“Adam’s Song” was a song I could relate to when I was 13. “I can’t wait till I get home / to pass the time in my room alone.” I was a loner, see, and I lived in my basement, so I took those lyrics to heart. In retrospect, this song does go down the cheap sentimentality route – it’s about suicide, isn’t it? “Please tell mom this is not her fault?” “Give all my things to all my friends, you’ll never step foot in my room again?” Eh. I still like the chorus, though. Kind of over-the-top, but catchy.

Again, I don’t hate this song, and I don’t hate Blink-182. All I’m saying is that I probably should. How can a cool guy like me like a teenybopper pop-punk band like this? I listen to Richard Hell for Petesake!!

Also, I’m glad Mark Hoppus sang this song. We’ve all heard Tom Delonge try to sing emotionally, and it should never be heard by human ears (The Adventure, anybody?).

Song 5: “There She Goes” by Sixpence None The Richer

So it’s a cover of that great La’s song, by the guys who did “Kiss Me.” If you don’t recognize “There She Goes” by the title, trust me, you will when you hear it – it’s practically become part of the cultural lexicon. “There she goes / there she goes again!” Yeah, that song.

But it’s a good version! It’s in a different key from the La’s version, and the drama’s ramped up a little bit (there are strings thrown in there once in a while), but other than that it’s a faithful cover of a jangle-pop gem. Oh, and it’s sung by a dame. A dame with a very sweet voice instead of the Liverpudlian drawl of the original. So it doesn’t have as much personality, but meh. It’s still a sweet song.

And it’s a simple song too, you know? There aren’t even verses – just a chorus over and over again, and a very brief middle-eight. But it’s not annoying! How many songs can pull that off nowadays?? Not “Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt,” I can tell you that.

So that’s all I’ll do for now. This probably won’t be the last time – I’ve got about 130 songs on this playlist, and I’m sure I’ll be adding more as more and more crappy old songs seep into my subconscious. Also, anything that keeps me from writing long papers about Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” is fine by me.

>Relationships, Hey Hey Hey: A Fun Guide To Pavement’s Last Two Albums

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Before I talk about Pavement’s lovely last two albums, I’d like to share with you a boring little anecdote about when I first listened to Pavement. “Anecdote” might be a bit of a misnomer, since it’s not a very funny story at all, but I’m not here to discuss semantics.

I bought Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement’s first album, shortly before my freshmen year of college. It was the deluxe re-release, with a plethora of unreleased bonus tracks and cool packaging and whathaveyou – and one thing that stuck out in my mind was the colorful little booklet insert in the CD packaging that listed all five of Pavement’s albums with cute little descriptions for each. My memory is fuzzy, but I distinctly recall Wowee Zowee being called “Pavement’s diverse album,” Crooked Rain described as “their mainstream album”, etc. Having a total boner for bands that totally changed their sound with almost every album they released, I was immediately spurred to buy everything Pavement ever recorded.

Being the romantic that I am, I set up a little plan in my head that I would buy a new Pavement album for each year I was in college. This, I figured, would work our perfectly – I already had Slanted, and they released four albums after that. I was (presumably) going to be in college for four years – wow, they just sync up perfectly, don’t they? I’d end up buying Terror Twilight, their last album, right after I graduated. Not only that, but I’d be graduating in 2009 – exactly ten years after Twilight came out. How wonderfully convenient!!!

I played along with this silly little plan for a brief period – I didn’t pick up Crooked Rain until almost a full year after I got Slanted – but I abandoned it pretty quickly, especially after my house caught on fire and I lost my entire CD collection. After that, I had no qualms about downloading albums excessively, and by the summer of ’07 I had everything, including Twilight. So much for dramatics.

Not that it really matters, though; I loved Pavement so much, purposefully depriving myself of their music was not a smart decision, and fire or no fire I would have caved in to my cravings eventually. Silly silly me!

So that’s my Pavement anecdote. It wasn’t very funny or interesting. Now onto the albums.

I first listened to Pavement’s Brighten the Corners and Terror Twilight around the same time, so the two kind of run together for me; if I listen to one, I’ll probably end up listening to the other shortly afterward. This might be because the two albums sound somewhat similar, at least upon first listen. They’re both laid-back, graceful guitar-driven albums, and when listening to both of them back-to-back they almost sound like volumes one and two of Pavement’s Last Hurrah. The sound itself is indicative of the phase Pavement was going through at the time; after the purposefully-weird Wowee Zowee alienated fans and critics, the band seemed to have little or no interest in commercial viability anymore. With Brighten and Terror, they decided to stick with their classic-rock-influenced sound mixed with the quiet beauty of past songs such as “Grounded” and “Pueblo”, creating music that synthesized everything Pavement had been striving for since their second album, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain. As a result, though, the band mostly ignored their messy, lo-fi rockers that defined their early sound, giving their last couple albums a distinctly mellow feel – a move that deters a lot of hardcore Pavement fans to this day.

When you really dig deep, though, you start to realize how different – and wonderful – Pavement’s last two records are. Brighten the Corners didn’t offer anything remarkably new from Pavement, but it solidified what could be called the “Pavement sound”, featuring a set of slow-burning, melodic guitar songs that pick up where “Grounded” left off. Songs like “Transport Is Arranged,” “Old To Begin,” “Type Slowly,” “Starlings of the Slipstream” and “Fin” are all great songs, although maybe slower and more melodic than most Pavement fans would expect. These songs are par-the-course for the album, giving it a very consistent mood, but some great rockers prevent the songs from blending together too much – “Stereo”, the opening track, has one of the most rockin’ choruses the band’s ever done, and its silly-awkward verses with cutesy lyrics about Geddy Lee just make it all the more charming. One of my favorites on the album is the Spiral Stairs song “Date w/ Ikea”; while Stairs had become the George Harrison of the band at this point, contributing only a couple songs on each album, his songs were often highlights, and “Ikea” is no exception. It’s a poppy, fun, energetic number with a great 12-string guitar riff and a distorted vocal from Stairs that will no doubt remind the listener that this is indeed a Pavement song. There are some moments where the album’s balance of relaxation and cutesiness turns to boredom and awkwardness; “Blue Hawaiian” is nice but is maybe a little TOO mellow for my tastes, and “We Are Underused” gets a little obnoxious after a while. But Brighten the Corners, for the most part, shows Pavement thriving in an attractive musical niche.

Terror Twilight, however, twists this niche until it is snapped in half. Where Brighten sounded relaxed and comfortable, Twilight sounds cold and even unfriendly at times, revealing a sad undercurrent to Pavement’s music. Produced by Nigel Godrich, the man behind Radiohead and Beck’s biggest albums, the songs have a notable gloss to them that distances the album even further from the traditional Pavement style; even the happier, more melodic songs tend to sound more distant than before. One easily get the impression that Pavement were on the verge of splintering apart – for one, the album was entirely written by lead singer/songwriter Stephen Malkmus, with minimal input from the rest of the band. That, and Malkmus himself doesn’t sound remarkably excited with the whole project, his usually front-mixed sarcastic-asshole voice floating over these songs with an air of self-important disinterest.

With all these factors working against it, it might be hard to notice that Twilight has some really, really good songs brimming underneath all that pathos. For one, they’re more diverse than Brighten‘s songs ever were, switching from alt-folk to jazzy pop to abstract rockers without hesitation. It’s all buried under a more conservative style that’s atypical for Pavement, but it’s there. Also, while Malkmus’s aforementioned voice isn’t as energetic as it once was, it is rather pretty, and complements the grace of these songs well. And while the overall album does have an air of disinterest, it makes it all the more awesome when a bit of rock ‘n roll fervor crashes in right in the middle of a song, something that happens often on Twilight. Finding these moments is a fun little game, one that warrants repeated listens: there’s the explosive coda to “You Are A Light,” the random art-guitar explosions in “Platform Blues,” the uppity chorus to “Billie,” the sudden rock breakdown near the end of the jazzy “Speak See Remember” – the list goes on and on. My personal favorite instance is in “The Hexx,” a song that could easily rank as the most downtrodden song Pavement ever recorded – save for the chorus, during which Malkmus’s voice rises high and an electric guitar rises with it. It’s an exhilarating moment in an album that almost refuses to be exhilarating, at least on the surface. Indeed, this is an album that rewards patient listeners.

Beyond all that, though, there are simply a lot of great songs here that you would never see on any other Pavement album. “Folk Jam” is a banjo-driven ditty that… well, it’s a folk jam, or at least the closest Pavement ever got to folk (it has the line “Irish folktales scare the shit out of me,” so there you go). “Platform Blues” is a nutty, nutty song with harmonica(!) from Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead(!!) – I once heard someone call this song “unlistenable,” which is kinda naive if you ask me. It’s a fun, rockin’ song, if not a weirdly timed, half-shouted rockin’ song. But to me, the most notable tracks here are the three singles, all of which might be the oddest songs on the album. Opening track “Spit On A Stranger” is a sweet, pretty pop song – a straight-up pretty pop song, albeit with the title of “Spit On A Stranger.” But it might be one of the loveliest songs Pavement’s ever written – that is, if they didn’t out-sweet it with “Major Leagues”, the most straight-up and heartfelt love song they’ve ever written. Hell, it sounds almost radio-friendly. Yikes. But it’s great, and of course it isn’t totally straight-faced, with lyrics like “Lip balm on watery clay / Relationships, hey hey hey / You kiss like a rock, but you know I need it anyway.” It’s kind of a cynical realist’s view of love, and it fits the band like a glove (rhyme).

Maybe the most anomalous song here, though, is “Carrot Rope” – a fun, cutesy song that closes the album, and ultimately Pavement’s recording career. Not only does it comes after the darkness of “The Hexx,” which seemed almost impossible to overcome, but it features almost every other band member singing! Well, I mean, they kinda throw their voices in there at the beginning awkwardly, but it’s still quite endearing to hear them all sing non-sequitirs over each other with unexpected enthusiasm. It’s a little jarring, but it’s really sweet, a surprisingly lovely way for Pavement to bow out – especially coming from a band that defined themselves with slackerish sarcasm.

These albums aren’t anywhere near as cherished as Pavement’s early stuff, but they should be. To me, I’ve always imagined Pavement as a bunch of stoned slackers who, on a whim, stole money from their parents’ wallets, bought some electric guitars, quarantined themselves in a basement all night and, by some kind of divine intervention, created beautiful beautiful music. These last couple albums are a testament to Pavement’s craft – and proof that, in my eyes, they never recorded a disappointing album. If you love the band as much as I do, don’t deprive yourself of them.

Like, don’t wait a year to buy each one for no apparent reason. Just a random example.

>The Beatles Were A Terrible Band!

>
Hah, no, just kidding. They were a wonderful band.

I feel guilty writing about the Beatles. Like almost everybody else who has written a word about them, I feel as if I can’t say anything about them that hasn’t been said. I am compelled to, however, because I very recently watched the film “Across The Universe” and I did not like it. At all. It’s a movie that takes all of those wonderful, wonderful Beatles songs we all know and love and uses them to string together a hackneyed, boring plot about a Liverpudlian named Jude (HURR) moving to America, becoming friends with a frat boy named Max (well’s silver hammer HURR) and his phoned-in love-interest sister Lucy (in the sky with diamonds HURRRRR) while they encounter a vast array of broad 60’s cliches (Max is drafted! Lucy joins up with violent revolutionaries! Jude goes on a psychedelic drug trip with Bono!!). They all pontificate their feelings by singing Beatles songs to themselves at random intervals, mostly by slowing them down to make them real emotional and heartfelt and all that shit. Once the Asian lesbian cheerleader named Prudence (HAHRUARUAURHRR) shows up and locks herself in a closet (GUESS WHICH SONG THEY SING?), you start to realize that you’re basically watching “Rent” with Beatles songs thrown in.

This has been a sad trend in recent years – cover a bunch of Beatles songs in a “cool”, “modern” way and see the cash roll in. There was that shitty indie tribute to Rubber Soul, or the entire I Am Sam soundtrack, or that crappy John Lennon musical. I’m willing to give the Instant Karma compilation a free pass, since it’s for a good cause and all that, and it’s just John Lennon’s solo stuff, but the music is still terrible (Black Eyed Peas doing “Power to the People”, AWESOME) and it promotes the whole “peace and love” Beatles image that just comes across as fake-hippie bullshit nowadays. I guess I can also give a pass to Love because it comes straight from the source, but it still feels like a wasted opportunity to me. Honestly, George Martin and his cohorts are probably the ONLY people in the world who would have a chance to remix the Beatles LEGALLY, without any contest, and given this huge fucking opportunity they barely did anything with the music except for a really cool mix of “Drive My Car” and “What You’re Doing.” Also the album’s for Cirque du Soleil, so again the Beatles are lent to overblown theatricality.

It’s a trap, though! If you ever register your disgust in some half-assed Beatles “tribute” you’ll always have people saying, “Well, jeez, it’s the BEATLES! You love the Beatles, right? Then you must like it!” It’s a bargaining chip. No matter how shitty a Beatles tribute is, it still has Beatles music in it, so I’m guilted into liking it on some level. But it just doesn’t work that way – anything can be ruined, even the most wonderful music in the world. It depends on the circumstances; if I hear a bunch of shitty musicians singing “Across the Universe” at the Grammys, I’m probably going to think about it whenever I listen to the original song and it will just… hurt.

Is it a personal thing? Well, yes. I love the Beatles. I got into them when I was 16 after listening to my parents’ copy of “Beatles 1”, and I never looked back. It was kind of a weird time for me – see, I’d recently stopped attending church, and I had this fear about what was going to happen to me when I died. I feared Hell, if it existed, and I didn’t want to go there. I don’t know why I felt this way – my church wasn’t a very dogmatic one, and I hadn’t been much of a dedicated Christian for years, but I was very unsure of what was out there. Listening to the Beatles, though, made me feel good, like I had nothing to be afraid of. Songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” made me cry just to hear them, and they still do. They fuckin’ changed my life, no doubt about it. Without them I would not love music half as much as I do now. I mean, there have been many many bands that I have fallen in love with over the years, but none of them have affected me quite like the Beatles did – no matter how much of a cynical jackass I have become, my love for them has never waned.

I mean, the fact that the Beatles are still so universally beloved and revered almost half a century later is a testament to how great they were. Their songs are so good that almost everybody loves them, cherishes them; I can talk the Beatles with my parents, and I barely ever talk music – period – with my parents. But it’s a double-edged sword; since it’s so accessible and beloved, everybody is open to use the Beatles’ music for whatever means they wish, which leads to a lot of shitty tributes and lame misinterpretations of “I Am The Walrus” (THE SONG IS A FUCKING JOKE SONG, LENNON WAS MAKING FUN OF BOB DYLAN, STOP THINKING IT’S SOME COOL PSYCHEDELIC MESSAGE). And no matter how crappy they are, there will always be an audience of Beatles faithful willing to lap it up. I guess I have to accept that fact that, since there are so many goddamn Beatles fans out there, a lot of them love the Beatles for completely different reasons than myself. Hell, there are still people who think the Beatles didn’t recorded anything good until “Revolver” – can you believe that shit?!

But I guess it can’t be all bad. Yeah, I hated the “Across the Universe” movie, but watching it did spur me to listen to “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles”, the only two Beatles albums I hadn’t heard yet. No matter how many lame Beatles tributes come out over the years, they will always lead me back to the real thing, and I guess I can’t complain about that. As the years wear on, I will grow with the Beatles’ rich body of work, discovering more and more little gems that I will grow to love even more – on my own terms. And ain’t that what great music is all about?

So, in the end… the love you take is equal to the love you make. All you need is love. I guess I truly am mother nature’s son. Maybe I should just hide my love away? No, no – I’ll get by with a little help from my friends, The Beatles, and I’ll always remember them when I’m sixty-four. We can work it out once we all come together – here, there, and everywhere. So I guess I can just… let it be.

Good Night, Mr. Moonlight.

(Wait, that song kinda sucked.)