Monday, September 10, 2012

Pavement Pow Wow: Our Top Ten Pavement Songs

[The Pixies are Kyle's favorite band. Pavement is Alex's favorite band. The two have fought about which influential group is superior since time began. As an interesting experiment, the two have decided to set aside their eternal hatred and list their top ten songs from each band. How will their lists compare? Read below to find out.]

Kyle Shoemaker's List

10. "Stereo" (Brighten the Corners)
My all time favorite Pavement groove to say the very least, the bass line on this track is just legendary. I always loved the way this song balances the high energy chorus with the mellow weirdness of Malkmus' vocals.

9. "Conduit for Sale!" (Slanted and Enchanted)
I'm a huge fan of the Dismemberment Plan and this song essentially laid out their formula years before they formed (if you don't believe me, go listen to Is Terrified). The rapid fire absurdist spoken word delivery of Malkmus' combined with Bob Nastanovich screaming the chorus is one of the few great pleasures in life. All the dynamics and energy of a Pixies song and all the Malkmus of a Pavement song. How can you go wrong?

8. "Gold Soundz" (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
It's impossible for me to listen to this song without thinking of the excellent and strange music video where the entire band is dressed as Santa Claus and equipped with bows. Among all the lyrics that Pavement is known for, I don't think any is as noteworthy as "Because you're empty and I'm empty / and you can never quarantine the past"; it's meaning is something meant for individual pondering at 3AM and I won't attempt to do so here.

7. "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" (Slanted and Enchanted)
Is there a bigger fuck you to rock music conventions when when Malkmus laughs when saying "dropped off"? Is there any moment more quintessentially pavement than when Malkmus' utters "not here babe, TORTURE". 

6. "Shady Lane / J vs. S" (Brighten the Corners)
A genius but scatter-brained lyrical mess with one of the best pure melodies in the Pavement discography. I don't know what a "Shady Lane" is and why Malkmus wants one so bad, but I do know he should ask his god, who's god? everybody's god. I've always thought the song was Malkmus somehow pondering the fragility of life, but that's probably just the video talking. In summation I have no freaking idea what this song is about, but it's so catchy and Pavement and stuff.

5. "In the Mouth a Desert" (Slanted and Enchanted)
I'm a man of simple pleasures and the guitar tone of this song is the main reason I'm listing it this high. The dichotomy of Malkmus' pretty boy delivery and the guttural tone and distortion of the guitar makes this one of Pavement's all time greatest songs. 

4. "AT & T" (Wowee Zowee)
Nonsensical by design this song has absolutely everything I look for in a Pavement song; a great melody, bizarre lyrics with a quirky delivery, and an energetic chorus. The final moments consist of Malkmus screaming "whoa" and ending the song by repeating "the story goes", what story? your guess is as good as mine.

3. "Unfair" (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
Malkmus' ultimate ode of his home state, this song manages to name drop no less than 4 cities within California while at the same time pitting the north and south against each other in a playful way. The insane imagery of "credit card in the air / swing your nachos like you just don't care" makes anyone that listens to "Unfair" want to burn the hills of Beverly just as badly as Malkmus does.

2. "Grounded" (Wowee Zowee)
The most epic song in Pavement's vast discography to say the least, the whole thing just sounds so huge. A lot of that is the post-rock influenced introduction that sounds as if it's the guide-book used for every Explosions in the Sky song ever. You're simply doing yourself a huge disservice by playing this song at anything but full volume. The actual song is some sort of condemnation about Doctors, but who cares about that with all the life-affirming going on?

1. "Elevate Me Later" (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
When I was cutting down this list to 10 songs, "Elevate Me Later" was a song that very nearly didn't make my list... but the strangest thing happened. I suddenly realized in my head that the lead guitar line to this song is the first thing I hear in my head when I think of Pavement and I really didn't even associate it with any one song. When I really thought about the implications of this it was simply too strong of a feeling for me to dare place another song above it. To me music is all about memorability that will stand the test of time, and any song that I don't have to actually hear to hear in my head deserves extra special praise.

Alexander Borg's List

10. Harness Your Hopes (Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition)
Throughout his years in Pavement, frontman Stephen Malkmus used his razor sharp wit and unmatched command of language to satirize countless subjects with the music industry being one of his favorite sparring partners. On “Harness Your Hopes,” Malkmus proves that he is just as capable of self-parody as clever satire, crafting a song excessively in his band’s signature style. Chock-full of non sequiturs, flippant rhymes every half-second, and meta references all over a fractured guitar melody, “Harness Your Hopes” stands out as an essential part of Pavement’s cannon.

9. Stereo (Brighten the Corners)
An energetic joke song about how his band is far too weird to be played on commercial radio peppered with hilarious lines “What about the voice of Geddy Lee? / How did it get so high / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?” Malkmus is at his goofy best on “Stereo.” My favorite part of the song comes from Bob Nastanovich who serves as the song’s one-man fact-checking committee, answering Malkmus’ question with an exuberant “I know him and he does!"

8. Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite at :17 (Slanted and Enchanted)
“Lies and betrayal / Fruit-covered nails / Electricity and lust” are the words that open one of Pavement’s best pop songs and although the seemingly nonsensical lyrics might seem illogical paired to a pop song, these words hold a special significance in the heart of any fan of indie rock. As Pavement’s legacy grows increasingly larger as the years go on, karaoke bars better start programming this magnificent song.

7. Frontwards (Watery, Domestic)
Who else but Stephen Joseph Malkmus could write a song that is equally rocking and introspective? The best track off the absolutely flawless Watery, Domestic EP, “Frontwards” combines guitars simultaneously melodic and noisy with the famous line “Well I’ve got style / Miles and miles / So much style that it’s wasted.” When he repeats the line for the final chorus, Malkmus alters the line to “So much style that it’s leaving.” A powerful and bleak expression of ennui  and possible self-doubt, “Frontwards” remains one of Malkmus’ most emotionally arresting songs.

6. Fin (Brighten the Corners)
While he would later prove his guitar heroism on a number of solo releases, Stephen Malkmus didn’t become a truly great guitarist until Brighten the Corners in my opinion. Borrowing the altered tunings he learned from Sonic Youth, Malkmus was a highly effective guitarist before Pavement’s most mellow album but not a great one. On the appropriately titled closer “Fin,”  Malkmus’ incredibly ear for magnificent solos is put on full display. Making use of the track’s five and a half minutes, Malkmus crafts an incredible, languid climax that shines as one of Pavement’s greatest achievements.

5. Father to a Sister of Thought (Wowee Zowee)
One of countless stylistic deviations found on the brilliantly unfocused Wowee Zowee, “Father to a Sister of Thought” could easily be mistaken for a particularly lazy Silver Jews track were it not for the distinctly Pavement lyrical and production quirks. The lackadaisical alt-country song’s saunter perfectly compliments the stoned, slacker vibe the band embodied at the time and the way Malkmus expressively professes “I’m just a man / You see who I am” never fails to get me.

4. Gold Soundz (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
“Gold Soundz” earns its spot on this list for a multitude of reasons. I love the meta-textual “And they’re coming to the chorus now!” announcement Malkmus shouts, a possible cue to his coltish band. I love the ironic “z” pluralization. But most of all, I love the profound lyrics. While Malkmus might casually rattle off “So drunk in the August sun / You’re the kind of girl I like / Because you’re empty / And I’m empty / And you can never quarantine the past,” these mystical words resonant with my soul as cheesy or hyperbolic as that might sound. And for that, I thank him.

3. Range Life (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
A subtle commentary of how indie and the mainstream conflict and a genuine desire to find some place to settle down, “Range Life” is an anthem or more accurately, an anti-anthem. While it lacks the size or audaciousness often associated with anthems, “Range Life” is an anthem because of its universally understandable core. Isn’t it a goal in everyone’s life to find some place that brings them peace?

2. In the Mouth a Desert (Slanted and Enchanted)
The pinnacle of Pavement’s relentless and noisy first chapter, “In the Mouth a Desert” was the song that showed me that uncompromisingly aggressive could be intelligent and lyrically complex. As Malkmus weaves an obscure lyrical tapestry, the song rises and falls in intensity. Despite its jagged aesthetic, I’ve returned to “In the Mouth a Desert” a countless number of times, each time picking up a new level of complexity.

1. Grounded (Wowee Zowee)
If it weren’t for the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Grounded” would be my favorite song of all time. I’ve devoted so much of my life to listening and analyzing music and in all that time I’ve never encountered a song that begins to rival the emotional gravitas of “Grounded.” An epic work in the truest sense of the word, the song begins in a haunting, almost post-rock fashion before entering it’s first verse where Malkmus details the life of a highly successful physician. While Malkmus focuses on the riches the doctor can afford during the verses, he punctuates each of the choruses with “Boys are dying on theses streets!” emphasizing the inescapable realities of the profession. Already stirring thanks to its incredible lyrics, the song reaches new levels of emotion when Malkmus’ guitar roars. The song is indescribably beautiful and sad, making it my favorite song from my favorite band. 

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