by / April 7th, 2010 /

Pavement – Quarantine the Past

 5/5 Rating


There’s a record shop joke that the best bands never release “Best Ofs”, and great pleasure was once to be had from rebuffing teenagers sloping in and asking for the Best Of Metallica or The Best Of AC/DC. But my, how things have changed on Walton’s mountain when we have the pioneers of Gen X hipster cool banging out a Best Of to coincide with a reunion tour. It’s all a little bit too much like The Eagles.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, Quarantine The Past, a retrospective of Pavement’s work, is not only a good thing, it also makes perfect sense. Either way, once the still-shimmeringly perfect ‘Gold Soundz’ kicks in, it’s hard not to be completely and utterly sold. It’s a Best Of of epic proportions. While the band’s sound was and always will be the benchmark against which all lo-fi records will be held, the selection of tunes here is expansive and sublime, and, in truth, they’ve never sounded better.

It has to be said that the tracklisting was impeccably selected. The cheeky, louche pop of ‘Stereo’, ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Shady Lane’ is offset by the shambolic hopefulness of ‘In The Mouth A Desert’ and the punkish ‘Debris Slide’. It’s evident that the genius of Pavement’s music not only lies in their aptitude at drawing out a tune from the most unlikely of places and giving you just enough but never too much, but also in Stephen Malkmus’s sometimes nonsensical snippets of lyrics, hinting at a deeper meaning but never really going anywhere (see basically any song here, but in particular ‘Fight This Generation’ and ‘Heaven Is A Truck’).

While a song like ‘Here’ may as well be Nada Surf for all its references to Americana and punchy waves of fuzzy guitar, there’s something about how Malkmus yowls into a croon that grabs you everytime. The achingly flawless ‘Spit On A Stranger’ could have been written for The OC’s soundtrack, and ‘Trigger Cut’ is as life affirmingly catchy and amateurish as ever. Listening to Pavement’s albums chronologically, the difference between each one is palpable, but for some reason, the chopping and changing and jumping works here, and going from ‘Summer Babe’ to ‘Range Life’ makes perfect sense. Even if there are some glaring omissions from the Pavement canon, the choices made on Quarantine are immaculate.

Pavement have always occupied a space somewhere between classic indie perfection and total freak-out sonic fuzz jam, which inevitably means that as a band, they can be a struggle for the unacquainted (which probably explains some of their popularity as a college rock band). But here they are, packaged and streamlined in all their chaotic glory. It’s hard to express how important it is for those unacquainted to hear this album. Please get stuck in.

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  • “It has to be said that the selection was impeccably selected”

    Reeeeally? I was so disappointed when I saw the tracklisting for this compilation. They missed out a lot of the greatest singles; no ‘Carrot Rope’, ‘Major Leagues’, ‘Father to A Sister of Thought’, ‘Cream of Gold’?
    Not a very even selection from their back catalogue either; the bulk of its Slanted and Enchanted/Crooked Rain. I would have liked to have seen more off Wowee Zowee, Brighten the Corners, etc. And some of Malkmus’ most beautifully written songs are sorely missing as well- ‘We Dance’ in particular.
    It’s like this album doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be; it doesn’t serve well as an introduction to Pavement, and at the same time there’s no previously unearthed gems for their cult following; I was expecting outtakes, live tracks, radio sessions, something along those lines.
    I hate saying it, but it just seems like they’re simply cashing in somewhat on the reunion; it strikes me as an unnecessary release.

    Otherwise they should have taken a leaf out of Yo La Tengo’s book, and done a double disc like ‘Prisoners of Love’; probably would have made it more inclusive and well-rounded.

  • PS- noticed that you mentioned the glaring omissions, I just think they detract somewhat from the overall selection. Also, is it terrible I love the Eagles? Beautifully written review too.

  • micko

    I agree it was “impeccably selected”

    too right the majority is from slanted and crooked rain and early eps, that’s their best material.

    as for outtakes, live tracks, radio sessions etc. they’re all on the deluxe editions of the albums.

    i think it is the perfect intro to the band if you havenn’t heard them before.

  • Sophie Crowther

    @Sophie Elizabeth: I’ll concede Major Leagues, but I’ve never been a huge Carrot Rope gal. Although you don’t seem to be alone in your upset at its exclusion,in fairno!

    I disagree that it’s not a good introduction to their work – it certainly doesn’t pander to their hardcore fanbase but their most accessible stuff is here for those unfortunate enough to still be unacquainted. I think b-sides and rareties are a whole other disc tbh, leave the feedback and screeching for those of us brave enough to take it.

    @micko: word!