Comparing a band’s sound to the Beatles isn’t normally construed as a slam, but, then again, normalcy’s never been Pavement’s forte.| Not that Pavement routinely get confused with the Fab Four, but there is a progression on “Spit on a Stranger,” the first single from Terror Twilight, that smacks of “A Day in the Life.” “It’s very Beatles actually, unfortunately,” sighs Pavement singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus. “I don’t wanna sound like them, really. It doesn’t sound too much like them, I hope.”
Knowing Malkmus — and that’s a chore in itself — he’d probably get a much bigger kick out of comparisons to the Knack or the Rutles, but who can tell for sure. The architect of the lo-fi Pavement is fairly blasT expounding on the fairly bright-and-sunny Terror Twilight, out this week. “It’s not like a misery vibe or anything,” he says. “It’s what it is.” Terror Twilight is clearly the least cacophonic album the quintet’s released since its landmark debut, Slanted & Enchanted (1992). Judging from the album’s breezy “Spit on a Stranger” and bouncy and cheery “…And Carrot Rope,” with its very un-Pavement-like three-part harmonies, the group seems to have put its days of feedback-infested discord on permanent vacation, an evolution that’s taken a full decade to realize.
“Things change,” Malkmus says. “You’re gonna have your touchstones always, I’m sure. I’m never not gonna like the Velvet Underground but that doesn’t mean I wanna sound like White Light/White Heat every album. They didn’t, either.”
For Terror Twilight, Pavement enlisted producer Nigel Godrich, whose long hot-streak includes Radiohead’s OK Computer, R.E.M.’s Up and Beck’s Mutations. Not a bad choice at all, but to hear Malkmus tell it, choosing him “is something to talk about…and it gets distributors excited.” “[Nigel] knows that if this is gonna be a success beyond critical success, people have to like it like an album,” he says. “Develop a relationship with it or whatever, blah blah blah.”
“No one knew who Nigel was, really,” admits singer-guitarist Scott Kannberg (a k a Spiral Stairs). “It was just like, ‘oh yeah, he did that Radiohead record. That sounds good.’ Then we found out he does Beck. We were ready to kick him out.” Only kidding.
The recruitment of Godrich didn’t occur until attempts at creating new material in Portland, Ore. (Malkmus’ home), in Virginia (drummer Steve West’s home) and finally New York (bassist Mark Ibold’s home) didn’t materialize. Godrich set out to make a more commercial-sounding Pavement album, and though it is on many levels, it’s still not commercial by modern rock radio standards. Still, Terror Twilight is closest to the quirky ballad side of 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (“Fillmore Jive,” “Range Life”), only without any jarring aberration, meaning there’s nothing like “Hit the Plane Down” on board. Part of the reason for the album’s sonic symmetry is, for the first time, Kannberg didn’t contribute any songs — usually among the most rocking songs (“Two States,” “Date with Ikea”) on the Pavement albums — to Terror Twilight.
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“I did write some, but when we got into the studio we just didn’t have the amount of time it takes to work on songs,” Kannberg says. “Stephen already had the full record written in his mind. I’ll just have more songs for the next record.”
Pavement began a six-week tour of the North America last Sunday (June 6) in Duluth, Minn., that will conclude July 15 in Vancouver. A limited-edition CD-ROM featuring videos for “…And Carrot Rope,” “Stereo” and “Shady Lane” (the latter two from Brighten the Corners) will be available through Matador Records’ Web site (www.matadorrec.com) or CDNow with purchase of Terror Twilight.