Brighten The Corners


The songs are slower than watching paint dry — painfully deliberate, patient to a fault. The verses run scattershot in all directions — from the assumptions of liberal politicians to a line that proclaims “the tones are grouped in clusters” with no narrative structure to connect the dots. The voice that carries most of those ideas is that of a hapless geek — somebody resigned to being blown off by the pretty girls, someone whose refuge is in the record collection, someone who doesn’t care whether his voice finds the right pitch or not.

This is the fragile world suggested by Steven Malkmus, lead warbler of Pavement, on the remarkable Brighten The Corners. At a time when most prognosticators think the postrock era will be electronic, Malkmus and his crew are doing a cool contrarian thing, by crafting wide-open, wonderfully pointillistic guitar-based songs that have little to do with the current definitions. The music is light and airy and crushingly subtle, and notable for both its vulnerable melodies and tense little knots of dissonance. It is not hammering music. It uses bits of the ‘60s — note the harmonic sequence of “Type Slowly,” which might have come from the pen of Burt Bacharach — but never dips into nostalgia. It’s Lou Reed poetry set to a belligerent backbeat, or Frank Zappa absurdity funneled into pop songs that sit only slightly askew. It’s the most beautiful tone poem supported by cartoonishly haywire guitar embellishments, or the most absurd Stones rip (“Embassy Row”) redeemed by chatty free associations and an overriding sense of giddiness.

Brighten, the quintet’s fourth album, abandons the careening 4/4 throttle of Wowee Zowee in favor of a more disciplined (gosh, almost tuneful) approach. There are songs that endeavor to speak for the common folk (the beatific “Shady Lane,” with its chorus “everybody wants one”) and one that expresses Malkmus’s postmodern amazement at hearing his own voice on the stereo. It’s all about adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings, and in both the band’s jarring, original uses of dissonance and most brazen appropriations is the sense that the old models no longer serve. It may take some time until we’re ready for a bold new paradigm, but in the meantime, it’s nice to hear Pavement tugging at the tired margins of rock ‘n’ roll, brightening the corners.


by Tom Moon

from MUSIC CENTRAL (Microsoft Web Site)