"Brighten the Corners"

Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

By David Fenton
March 18, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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i'm through looking for deeper meanings in Pavement songs. Don't get me wrong here -- I don't mean this in a negative way, necessarily. It's just that I was listening to "Stereo," the first cut on their new album, "Brighten the Corners," and thinking about the wonderfully optimistic little line "High hopes still arise," which bridges the gap between the song's blissed-out verse and its overdriven, cranked-up chorus. "A little kernel of truth," I thought. "So unabashedly simple but so reassuring."

A few listens later and I realized, of course, that it's not "High hopes still arise" at all but "High ho, Silver, ride." Of course. It means nothing -- and sounds perfect. I guess it just slipped my mind that the most consistent thing about Pavement is that they're rarely ever what they seem. And that's what keeps me coming back, surprise after humbling surprise. For every kernel of truth that turns out to be little more than a well-melodied non-sequitur, there's a bumper crop of truly inspired and unparalleled songcraft dressed up as lazy, lo-fi noodling. It's what makes Pavement's music so damned irresistible, and it's what makes "Brighten the Corners" some of their best work to date.


"Brighten the Corners" falls somewhere between the clairvoyant, all-access pop of 1994's "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" and the fragmented genius of their last release, 1995's "Wowee Zowee." It's not the first listen, and it's not the second, but somewhere around three or four you'll find this album making perfect sense. A few obvious hooks, on songs like the aforementioned "Stereo" or "Date with IKEA" (which may or may not be about furniture shopping, incidentally), act as advance agents, establishing a foothold for the less obvious but more textured and rewarding sounds of "Type Slowly" and "Starlings of the Slipstream." Gut-wrenching turns of phrase (the meanings of which are rarely clear, but trust me -- they wrench) appear as fluidly as supercharged riffs, all in a style that's so unforced as to sound, well, easy.

This "ease" -- this apparent laziness with which the boys in Pavement are often accused of cranking out both the riffs and the wrenches -- has a funny way of pissing off even the most quirk-loving rock critic. More than a few have implied that the band is somehow getting away with something, though what that something might be is about as unclear as, say, the true meaning of "High ho, Silver" in "Stereo." Is it the occasional copped riff or imitated style? Sorry, purity in pop music is deader than punk rock. Or is it the detachment, the smirking self-awareness? Sorry again, when the emotion is truly in the music, as it is in "Brighten the Corners," there's no point in feigning it for the cameras or the critics (and I'd be smiling, too, if I could write songs like these).

David Fenton

David Fenton is a regular contributor to Salon.

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