Sunday, December 14, 2008

Old to Begin

At first listen, I take "Old to Begin" as a warning to a younger lover to back off in case she doesn't want to stagnate. Then, I sort of feel as though the idea of "old" in this song has more to do with that stagnation than a May-December romance. Besides, how many Pavement songs are actually about romance?

There always seems to be some celebrated old (white) guy coming up with "new" ways of doing the same, old thing. Just as Al Gore invented the internets, these guys claim everything as their own, thinking that it makes them young and vibrant again to "reinvent the wheel." Meanwhile, they ignore the accomplishments of those who did all the work and really just come off as pompous blowhards stealing yet another idea. Then, we're all supposed to marvel at how great these men are.

It doesn't matter to these re-inventors that their ignorance of true ingenuity sets us all back a few years while they catch up. Their self-importance and legacy depend on their name being attached to someone else's invention.

In the end, their legacy is a fraud. All these men are left with are excuses and a gaping hole in their narratives.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Conduit for Sale

There is no other Pavement song that annoyed the women in my life more than "Conduit for Sale." That's OK. I love this song. Angry, like that feeling one gets when something is taken away.

The House of Savoy ruled a chunk of Italy for a long, long time. It was not a happy day when the heir proctor had to give in to interests from France and the Italian nationalist movement. Unless I have butchered the history, it seems to me that the conduit for sale was the road through Turin, possibly to the port of Nice. There was also some strange love triangles involving a guy named Ray, but I could be mistaken.

Either way, you should know that SM likes his history. There's a little history to this song that I don't have time to learn from Wikipedia or share with you through this post. It does make me think "Embassy Row" is somehow connected, but that's a post for another day.

What you should know about "Conduit..." is that it is an angry punk rock romp with a smart undercurrent. Listen...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Curt Your Hair

If Pavement ever had a "hit," this was it. "Cut Your Hair" was Buzzworthy on MTV and even received decent radio play from commercial stations. If there was a quintessential Pavement song, I'd also argue that "Cut Your Hair" earns that title as well. Honestly, this was the song that introduced me to the band.

Lyrically, the song is on the silly side, but there is an underlying punk ethos there that drives the sentiment home. Pavement was coming along at a time when underground bands were being scooped up and marketed to the masses. Lost was any of the energy or originality that made these bands so sought after by the majors in the first place. Pavement saw this going on around them and responded in song.

Each of the three verses address a movement away from music toward image. The first verse comes across as harmless, but it addresses image over content in the form of a haircut, the song's main theme. The haircut won't suddenly make a mediocre band great or a crummy album go platinum. However, tell that to all the bands posing as "emo" nowadays. Emo bands used to look like the guys in Pavement, not dudes with black eye make-up and silly haircuts.

The second verse becomes clearer as it addresses the over-saturation of bands to the market. Of course, the dilution of good music through the overabundance of bands has only worsened over the years, but the early nineties was the beginning. Another great song from the era that addresses this issue is Archers of Loaf's "Greatest of All-Time."

The third verse comes with a full-on attack on sell-outs. Buying songs and legitimacy is bashed. Image is pummeled by superior songwriting while the song unravels into rants of careerism. ("Career, career, Korea...")
Besides being one of Pavement's catchiest tunes, it is higlighted by several aesthetics that make it so memorable. First of all, the whoo-ooh-ooh's that fill the space between the verses are as memorable, if not more, than the lyrics or music or band itself. Also earmarking the song as a significant part of the ouvre, the guitar solo winds and whirls out of control, clearly setting Pavement apart from the hair-metal wannabe's of the grunge era. Finally, the song had a string of lines about drummers that either referenced those who hit the skins for Spinal Tap or former drummer, Gary Young.

The song has had an extra emotional tie for me as of late. My daughter, Lucia, was born three weeks ago, and this seems to be her favorite far. Or at least my slower, twangier version sooths her like no other mid-nineties song I sing to her.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two States

According to Wikipedia, there have been 27 separate attempts to split California into multiple states since 1850, the year California earned statehood. Most of these actions attempted to split the state in half, dividing the Golden State between the north and south.

Two states!
We want two states!
North and south
Two, two states
A couple of times, the northern portions of the state were nearly renamed the Colorado, either as a territory or another state entirely. Portions of other states were also considered in California secession plans, like Oregon and Arizona. Mountain Ranges were often considered when determining where to draw the borders. In the late 19th century, the building of the Ridge Route as a way to cross the Tehachapi Mountains helped thwart talk of splitting the state.

The last attempt to split the state came in 1992. State Senator Stan Statham was able to pass a proposal in the House to put the issue of state secession on the ballot in 58 counties. The proposal didn't survive the Senate.
Forty million daggers
Two states
We want two states
There's no culture
There's no spies
When one travels to California, it becomes rather apparent that the state is already very divided. The southern portion is sunny and generally very conservative, especially in Orange County. The north has the very liberal bay area and touches California's hippie cousin, Oregon. The temperatures also tend to be cooler and rainier than the south.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Date w/ IKEA

Jingle-jangle goes the opening guitar chords of "Date w/IKEA," one of two contributions by Scott Kannberg to Brighten the Corners. This might be the poppiest song Spiral Stairs ever wrote. It's certainly the jangliest.

This was something new for Kannberg. He was generally shut out in previous Pavement albums. He'd fool around on the guitar before the band met to record, and Malkmus would show up with demos and nearly complete songs ready to go. Kannberg came prepared to the BtC sessions with some songs ready for production. Of course, by this time, it was Malkmus' show. Kannberg was somehow able to sneak in two songs. This was one of them.

Even though he was unable to contribute many songs to the catalog, Pavement was good to Kannberg. Much like the situation he describes in the song, Kannberg realized he needed to stay around and stick it out. The song specifically describes a guy staying with his overly dramatic girlfriend despite her wild outbursts. He just joins her on a trip to IKEA for some new furniture when things go awry. It's easier that way.

The jangle mentioned before is something different for the band. The pep of the song actually picks up the album full of mid-tempo SM laments. This track, as well as "Passat Dream," kept BtC from wallowing in the mid-tempo mire. These songs gave the album some balance, cementing Kannberg's value to the band as a secondary songwriter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Newark Wilder

Cryptic is a love song for polygamists. Malkmus begins the story with a passionate courtship. A brand new era is about to commence for our hero. However, there's the sticky situation with the spouse already in place and not willing to give up her partner...

She won't let you know that I need a right to touch her
She won't let you wait for me
For me to touch you
A once happy marriage is tangled in the mire of a threesome and possible divorce.
Crowds of the people and voices and steeples and wedding rings
Wild are the horses and break-up divorces and separate rooms from
In the end, compromise is found. The first wife keeps the new one hidden, cut out of pictures. The man's needs are met. He's satisfied.
Three of us is enough.
The song, despite the strange, jazzy rhythms, would fit nicely in an episode of Big Love. Its groove is sleepy, almost lazy, but it fills in the slot right behind the radio-ready poppiness of "Cut Your Hair" just before it leads into the raucous "Unfair." "Newark Wilder" is the perfect segue on a perfect album.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Black Out

The saying "Ignorance is bliss" holds a lot of truth. If you're not aware that anything is wrong, about what you have to worry? If you're in the dark, you don't see imperfections.

Take a hole-in-the-wall bar for instance. The lights are mostly turned off. The only thing you're thinking about is getting plowed and hooking up with the young lady next to you. Then the bartender turns on the light and tells everyone to go home. You look around and see that this dingy little place is not where you want to spend the rest of your evening. The woman you were just chatting up doesn't look so great either. (She's probably thinking the same thing about you.)

Ignorance truly is bliss. There is no worrying about the world if you're not aware it has any problems. It's almost freeing to be so worry-free.

Though it's ultra-cryptic, "Black Out" plays with this idea. After rather confusing verses, Malkmus repeats, "No one has a clue." And the song closes with the repeated lines of "fun fun fun, fun for the summertime blues" and "it's gonna set you free."

What could ever have Pavement so carefree, without worldly worry? Pot. It's been well-documented that band succumbed to a lot of pot smoking during the recording of Wowee Zowee, and "Black Out" does little to dispel this fact.

(Crappy live footage of "Black Out")

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You Are a Light

"You Are a Light" is a love song. Pavement is not known for too many love songs, but this is certainly one, and the song is as Pavement a love song as there is.

The first verse describes a life in chaos. Anxiety is abundant thanks to our impending dependency on technology. (It was recorded in 1999.) The technology frustrates and confuses, making a return to the good old days and suicide our only options. At least SM has his light or to whomever he's singing.

Another scenario is described in the second verse where SM finds himself studying abroad, in Spain. Silly American/middle-class phobias of gypsy children and mortuary feasting consume him. Luckily, he has his love to shine the light to lead him home.

Things get downright sexual as the third verse begins. References to driving sticks and a lot of hollering close out the song.

SM repeats that he is "the isolator." An isolator is usually a switch that does what its name suggests: it isolates electrical current. The current in this case could be fro his light or in hopes of powering his light. Either way, this is as passionate as the usually monotone singer gets.

The music of the song is easy and jazzy through the first two verses, but rocks and breaks out after the second chorus with a typical Pavement-esque solo. This switch in intensity is carried into the third verse. Overall, besides the jazzy undertones, the arrangement is rather minimalist. The simplicity of the band's performance is augmented by various blips and electronic flourishes here and there, never more clearly heard than at the very end.

(Th performance below contains alternate lyrics from the track I reviewed. SM was known to mess with lyrics now and again.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Life Singed Her

Every band writes about mortality at some point. Zeppelin had "Stairway to Heaven", and Blue Oyster Cult had "(Don't Fear) the Reaper". However, as with most Pavement tracks, "No Life Singed Her" takes a totally different angle than the traditional mortality song.

First of all, there's this laissez faire attitude about the final hours. Then there's the imagery of slicing up a symbol of faith. Now the angel won't have to suffer from life the way we do. Eventually, we just float up to heaven or wherever we go, and that's it.

The song itself is way more acidic than that. SM's screaming and the harsh tones of the guitars make it a much more abrasive song than the lyrics or choral delivery would suggest.

But maybe that's life. We do what we want with our time, despite its fragility and value. Our faith is cut down time and time again. Before long, we accept death and move on.

(Sorry for the silly video, but it did have the track in question.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spizzle Trunk

An old school punk rocker measuring just over one minute and complete with unintelligible lyrics and piano banging, "Spizzle Trunk" demonstrates the inner-rocker within Stephen Malkmus. SM would go on to a solo career where he'd experiment with a similar aesthetic in his live shows...and throughout his most recent album, sans the youthful punk ethos.

The spizzle is for the sound. The trunk describes the curmudgeon.

The lyrics describe a middle-aged man living a miserable life with his cat and his detestable neighbors, family, and friends. You can picture the grump sitting at the kitchen table, shoveling cornflakes down his throat just before he sneezes them out his nose. He's got male-pattern baldness and nasty disposition.

"Spizzle Trunk" is punk rock for the balding, forty-year-old grump in all of us.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Elevate Me Later

The Left is a mess. I'm talking about the left of the political spectrum, the Left Coast, whatever else is left. I don't know that SM was speaking directly to the problems of anything "left", but I do get the sense that's the resulting message of "Elevate Me Later".

Somewhere it's written that Crooked Rain Crooked Rain is Pavement's Hotel California, hence the never-ending Cali references and that sunny, SoCal sound made so famous by the Eagles. Of course, SM and Spiral Stairs grew up in the depressingly NoCal town they forgot to name (Stockton). So, maybe that's why they're somewhat critical of the "The Golden State".

California's reputation as leftist or the "Left Coast" only makes it the perfect locale for ridicule. Political correctness sometimes goes overboard on the political left where the so-called right stays the course and takes down a road from which we might never return. Look at the Democratic primary. Two minority candidates beat up each other over who will best represent the left while the old white guy on the right sits back and waits patiently.

I don't think Pavement is/was anti-left. I just think they, like many progressive thinkers grow weary of the constant battles that occur within the ranks of liberal, leftist, whatever thinkers. Instead of finding answers, the left continues to tear itself down with hypocrisy and a fastidious intolerance of ideas that veer in other directions. California embodies this sentiment with its hippies, punks, and wannabe actors and all the ways in which they miss the point.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shady Lane

"A shady lane/Everybody wants one"

"A shady lane/Everybody needs one"

All we ever want is a shady lane, right? No matter the complexities or difficulties in our lives, all we really want is an ideal home, independent of the world's troubles.

A shady lane is a metaphor for the ideal life. Imagine a perfect, tree-lined neighborhood with kids on bikes and dogs barking. The white picket fences separate the homes while neighbors mow their lawns or enjoy a glass of lemonade on their front porch. The street is possibly even named "Shady Lane".

Of course, this neighborhood is only ideal if we ignore the racist across the street, the Bible-thumping lady next door, and the child-molester on the corner. But it looks pleasant and serene, doesn't it?

While literally this may not be everyone's (or even SM's) ideal life, but it's the iconic, stereotypical one that is perpetuated in popular culture, especially here in the states. The point is that the metaphor of the perfectly peaceful existence is there for all of us. Whether it's Shady Lane, Missoula, or Williamsburg, we all have a place we would like to live that is free of the problems of the world.

"The worlds collide, but all that I want is a shady lane."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17

"Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17" begins with an ominous tone much like a scene in a horror film.

The process a filmmaker undergoes when piecing together a narrative is chronicled in this Pavement cut. With every scene and edit, the filmmaker considers the conflict (lies and betrayals), striking images (fruit-covered nails), and urgency (electricity and lust...). And in creating the film, truth and success are discovered.

The wounded kite scene (possible a play on Wounded Knee) is that piece about 28 seconds left in the track that seems to come from nowhere. I figure that the kite begins to tear and finally tumble to the ground around the 17th second.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Rattled by the Rush

We get shaken or rattled in so many situations. Do we like it? Do we dread it? Do we feed off of it? All of the above.

The rush of being questioned, performing physical feets, or being in awkward situations rattles our inner-souls. We lose ourselves for a moment. The excitement leaves us disoriented.

It's like how you used to wrestle with your dad or an older sibling. You could never win. Your dad was too big, too strong, but he was sure not to hurt you. Something about this fruitless, physical activity arouses you. You then find yourself a little out of it, almost dizzy.

"Rattled by the Rush" places the classic rock tendancies of their later material within the herky jerky, laisez-faire jamminess of mid-nineties Pavement. The song demonstrates quintisential Stephen Malkmus' vocal stylings. He slides easily from deadpan smartass to squealing troubadour and somewhere in between. Aside from SM's singing, it's also one of the most ambitious guitar performances that ranges from the aforementioned classic rockiness to a looser, sloppier.

The song is as Pavement-y as it gets.