Album Review: Pavement – Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement

by Gordon Elgart on March 9, 2010

I was on a date once, and the date seemed to be going pretty well. We went back to her place and I started flipping through her records. There were a lot of Pavement albums, and I commented on how much she likes Pavement.

“Oh, I used to play bass in a Pavement cover band. They’re my favorite band! You like Pavement?” I never saw this girl again. I don’t like Pavement.

Flash forward a few years, and a friend has lent me Love is a Mixtape, and there’s an entire chapter in this book about going to see Pavement, and how it was such an amazing experience. I really like this book, so I thought I should give Pavement another chance. So I let my friend Casey know this, as Pavement is her favorite band, and she excitedly recommended some stuff to me, which I went and listened to. Still didn’t like it.

So how did I come to review the new Pavement collection, Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement? Our managing editor thought I had the most interesting relationship with the band of anyone here. He’s probably right, so I decided to take it on.

Now Casey has declared 2010 the Year of Pavement due to their reunion tour, and she uses the credo “What Would Malkmus Do?” to make decisions, so I decided to ask for her help. I’ve spent a few weeks listening to the songs on this album, and I’ve made some comments on some songs, sent those comments to Casey, and provided her reactions to my comments below.

Gold Soundz

Gordon: This song kicks off the album, and right away, I remember what I don’t like about the band. Why sing the high notes if you can’t hit the high notes? Is this charming, this “can’t really sing” singing? The music’s not bad, though.

Casey: The main problem most people who don’t like Pavement have with Pavement stems from Malkmus’ lyrics (“too obscure/don’t make sense”) or the way he sings (“off key/doesn’t try”). If this turns you off, then Pavement probably isn’t for you because those are some of the key elements of the band. To me, Pavement has always been more about the music first, the lyrical melody second, and the lyrics last. The vocal style meshes with the song, I think the melody compliments the song well and makes it catchy and – dare I say it – charming. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a singer who is amazing, but I’m willing to forgive a singer’s lack of ability if the music is worth it (see: The Flaming Lips).

Stereo

Gordon: Now here’s a track I can wholeheartedly support. Crisp, clean sound. Sure, he’s still not singing, but the well enunciated lyrics are pretty entertaining. This song teaches me that Pavement are pretty funny, and the band can rock when it tries.

Casey: Stereo has got to be one of my favorite Pavement songs. It’s just…infectious. It showcases Malkmus’ lyrical wit and also proves that Pavement is capable of making clean sounds…if they want to.

In the Mouth a Desert

Gordon: This track sounds like they’re not even trying to make a good song. C’mon guys, seriously?

Casey: Pavement is continuously described as a “slacker” band, and this song is one of the reasons why. Remember that kid in school who didn’t need to try, messed around in class, and still got all A’s? Songs like this, that weave their way into your head and don’t leave even though the entire band seems like they’ve adopted the attitude that they don’t have to tune their instruments to make a melodic track, make Pavement great.

Unfair

Gordon: I think I like this song because it’s about California. It makes me think that this song influenced Weezer in some way. I also like when a band tries to add dynamics to their sound.

Casey: I’m convinced this should be the state anthem for California, and I think anyone from California who hears it would agree (except those people in Bakersfield…why do they always have to be the brunt of the jokes?!). This song is such a fun and upbeat ballad to my favorite state.

Grounded

Gordon: When I tell people that I don’t like Pavement, I think this is the song I should play for them. This is the sound of a band that’s too drunk to actually write and record a song. Did this band get drunk a lot?

Casey: Well, the answer to your question is yes, they did. However, when I tell people I love Pavement, this is one of the first songs I play for them. I love songs where the hook isn’t in the lyrics, and there is something about the guitar that’s just so instinctual and heartfelt. The lyrical melody compliments the song well, and while I don’t particularly think this is Pavement’s best lyrical content to date, the visceral nature of the song reminds me why I love music- because sometimes you feel a song deep in your gut, and when that happens it is magical.

Range Life

Gordon: I’m surprised by how sweet and whimsical this one is. Nothing fancy here; makes me think that this one could be covered by a hundred country bands, and no one would be the wiser.

Casey: I don’t have much to say on this song. I don’t think it should be on the short list of best Pavement songs, but it’s written from an aging hippie’s perspective and it got them kicked off the Lollapalooza tour for calling out Smashing Pumpkins so it might as well be included to start conversation while listening with your friends. If you ask me though, “Conduit for Sale!” should be here instead.

Date w/IKEA

Gordon: Definitely not the best song about IKEA. Not even close. I love IKEA almost as much as I dislike this song.

Casey: I like when someone other than the frontman gets to play frontman and the song still sounds like it belongs. That’s where Date w/ IKEA comes in. One of Scott Kannberg’s contributions to Brighten the Corners, it once again taps into that slacker sound without sounding like Kannberg’s trying to be Malkmus. It’s raw but surprisingly poppy (see: Kannberg’s less poppy contributions to other albums).The lyrics are about staying in a relationship because it’s just easier that way, and all angsty twenty-somethings (or anyone whose ever been an angsty twenty-something) will be able to relate.

In the end, I still don’t like Pavement. I do understand, though, that they’ve influenced some bands I do like, but all these other bands actually try to make good songs all the time. It seems to me like Pavement hardly ever tried. I guess for some people that’s charming. We’re just gonna have to agree to disagree, most likely. I’m glad I can finally be done listening to Pavement. As for Casey? You’ll see her in the front row pretty often during The Year of Pavement.

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Thanks to Casey Martinez for basically writing this review for me.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Dakin March 9, 2010 at 2:08 pm

As your managing editor, I feel that this review turned out exactly as I wanted it to.

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casey March 10, 2010 at 5:56 am

Thanks to you, Gordon (and Spinning Platters) for asking me/letting me contribute! It was definitely a fun experience.

I guess that in the end, I can understand why people don’t like Pavement. For me though, Pavement is an alternative to the “alternative” we all came to know in the 90s. They are a different, whimsical, smart, thoughtful, magnetic, and alluring band without ever trying. They were my personal gateway to the music I cherish and love today. I know (based on talking to so many people about the reunion) that younger music listeners may have missed out on Pavement the first time around and may be hesitant to start with a “best of” album; however, Quarantine the Past is a really great place to start your Pavement journey. I would encourage everyone to give it a few good listens and really delve into it. You may just discover yourself won over.

Thanks again, guys!

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Sean March 10, 2010 at 6:17 am

This is a great review. I wish the tracklisting was bit better, but oh well. They keep their hidden gems for their REAL FANS. Regardless of whether or not you are one of these people, this “Greatest Hits” will add to the people who do love this band religiously. Myself included.

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Sean March 10, 2010 at 6:37 am

P.S. I was born in 1990, and am a huge Pavement fan. Their legacy is way bigger than any one would have guessed. I can’t wait to see them in KC. NO BIG HAIR!

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Christopher Rogers March 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm

“What Would Malkmus Do?” I figure that he’d do something where he wouldn’t really be trying and it really wouldn’t be that good on its merits, but that it might have some tantalizing possibility of potential in what he did if only he’d actually tried.

No, I don’t like Pavement either. Beavis’ devastating critique still stands as the beginning and the end of Pavement criticism: “C’mon, try. Try! TRY!”

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Christopher Rogers March 11, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I like the tact of your review in giving a try to something that you actively didn’t like, and the way you had a serious fan to “show you through the jungle.” I dig it.

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Marie Carney March 11, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I like two Pavement songs. This review kind of explains why. Thank you!

I really like the dueling review format. And I say Casey can write for us more. 🙂

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Gordon Elgart March 11, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Casey is eligible to write for us just as soon as she becomes a Bay Area Music Nerd. She lives in LA!

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griffin May 30, 2010 at 1:31 am

pavement isn’t famous enough for you to hate so much.

also, that johnathan coulton song was terrible, man.

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Gordon Elgart May 30, 2010 at 10:27 am

@Griffin

I don’t understand your comment. What about what I said makes you think I either “hate” Pavement, or even that I hate them “so much.”

But more importantly, what does whether or not someone is famous have to do with whether or not I should like them or dislike them? Do you think we’re in the business of doing “take down” pieces?

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