Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain : L.A.'s Desert Origins

Pavement may have been alternative rock's most notorious mess, but this deluxe reissue of their best album, appended with nearly forty extra tracks, illuminates one of their precious gifts: Like nobody else, the Stockton, California, band could make simple pop-rock chords sound really, really sarcastic. On its breakthrough, 1992's Slanted and Enchanted, melodies crept into a might-racket of guitar noise. Crooked Rain was almost the reverse: superbly crafted rock that only seemed splayed at the edges. "Silence Kid" begins with a fake-offhand guitar splutter, then becomes an anthem; while the ascending riffs of "Elevate Me Later" are cleverly onomatopoetic but also just as majestic and arena-ready as anything by U2. The extra tracks include a nod to Pavement's stadium heroes: The rare "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" is a hilarious faux-metal homage to R.E.M.

Much of Crooked Rain proper is straight-out lovely: The drawn out, spindly solo of "Stop Breathin" is gorgeous; rarely has so much lazy beauty been wrung from so few actual notes. And with the would-be pop hit "Cut Your Hair," the band, at last, just went for it. Pavement used the skepticism they had toward their idols of the Seventies and Eighties to build a new, imperfect classic rock. Rain is the sound of five school-of-rock geeks trying to make their major matter again, and really, truly succeeding.