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Pavement - Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal Music Album Reviews

Pavement - Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal Music Album Reviews
Pavement’s swan song finally gets the full reissue treatment, with various demos, alternate versions, and a new track sequence. It remains a fascinatingly ambivalent note to finish on for one of the most influential indie rock bands of their era.

As they prepared to record their fifth and final LP, Terror Twilight, Pavement was a band pulled in different directions. Having scattered to various parts of the country following a long tour to promote 1997’s Brighten the Corners, the members spent the better part of the following year hardly interacting at all. It was an understandable reassertion of boundaries after the unnaturally close quarters of the promotional cycle, but also an indication of diverging interests and priorities. The scrappy young noise merchants of Slay Tracks and Slanted and Enchanted were now in their early 30s. The band had been on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough that it was never entirely clear they actually wanted. Approaching the 10-year mark, they reconvened in frontman Stephen Malkmus’ adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon in July 1998 to see what more they had to say.

Rock groups are frequently a redoubt of passive-aggressive behavior, none more so than Pavement. Long the unchallenged creative force behind the band, Malkmus was not only one of the finest songwriters of his generation but a visionary guitarist—the best instrumentalist in the group by far. No one in Pavement disputes this then or now, and it was commonplace during recording sessions for Malkmus to play many of the others’ parts in the interest of time, or efficiently realizing his frazzled perfectionism. After months of not playing together during which time certain other members had not picked up their instruments at all, Malkmus decided he wanted to make a “band record” that would feature plenty of live tracking, improvisational embellishment, and relatively few overdubs. This was the brief when the group showed up at Jackpot! Studios and were handed demos of the frontman’s thorny compositions, which were increasingly veering into the complex terrain of English folk acts like Fairport Convention and the zany prog of Frank Zappa. Unsurprisingly, the band struggled.

Malkmus was unhappy, but it’s difficult to understand what he expected. In the liner notes for the new and expanded edition, Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal, multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich recalls: “Stephen was very frustrated because we had tried to play a handful of songs that were in their larval form and we hadn’t advanced them at all. And he was kind of irritated, seemingly with all of us. And he went up to the microphone and he’s like, ‘Here. I wrote one so easy that all of you should be able to play it.’” Several illuminating Malkmus demos are included on Matador’s sprawling 45-song reissue of the album, but only one track survives from the Portland misadventure, a highly tentative run-through of “You Are a Light” that certainly sounds like a struggle. Sessions were abandoned and rescheduled for New York a period of weeks later. In the interim, Nigel Godrich entered the picture.

Fresh off recording Radiohead’s OK Computer and Beck’s Mutations, Godrich had established himself as a generational talent, deservedly feted for alchemizing a contemporary sound drawn from the canonical psychedelic and garage records of the ’60s and ’70s. He loved Pavement—Wowee Zowee in particular—and let it be known through channels that he would be eager to record the group. For a floundering band in search of a confidence boost and a path forward, Godrich was an intriguing proposition. Sotto voce negotiations ensued between Malkmus and the band’s UK label Domino, and then, just like that, Nigel Godrich was producing Pavement. It was a boom or bust proposition that would ultimately prove to be a little of both.

Terror Twilight’s second attempt at actualization began at Sonic Youth’s Lower East Side studio/practice space Echo Canyon, rented out to the band at friends’ rates. The manageable budget was the main attraction but within a couple days it became apparent that the studio’s sundry idiosyncrasies were a bridge too far for Godrich. Acceptable headphone mixes were nearly impossible to achieve and the faders were upside down. Godrich wanted to make a Pavement album, but unaccustomed to both the setting and the band’s musical fault lines he implored them to upgrade the circumstances.

For their own purposes, the Echo Canyon recordings on the reissue are fascinating, simultaneously ratifying Godrich’s concerns and providing a glimpse of what Terror Twilight might have evolved into under more pacific circumstances. Early, more anarchic takes of “Ann Don’t Cry” and “Cream of Gold” benefit from first-thought-best-thought momentum, but suffer from cavernous sonics. The winsome, eventual outtake “The Porpoise and the Hand Grenade” swings along agreeably in the band’s accustomed three-legged-race groove. Whatever caused the misfire in Portland seems to have worked itself out.

Godrich prevailed upon Pavement to relocate to a studio he found more legible, eventually landing on the pricey RPM near Washington Square Park. Now they were on the clock, spending money beyond their budget on a half-formed record, festering with internal contretemps, and hoping the third time proved a charm. At RPM, the tension between a top-level producer accustomed to the benefit of a lengthy gestational process and an indie-band on a shoestring began to inform the deeply anxious and bizarre character of the finished Terror Twilight. Pavement had five or six days to complete the majority of the LP. In the liner notes bassist Mark Ibold paints a befuddled picture: “All I remember is that whenever we were in the studio together, almost every studio experience we’ve ever had, I am just nervous, and I don’t like it.”

Uneasily, but perhaps inevitably, much of Terror Twilight became the Malkmus and Godrich show, with the producer and frontman huddled together in an attempt at achieving a shared vision. In Pavement’s initial incarnation, co-founder and guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg had been second among equals to Malkmus. Now, an evolving trendline that found him estranged further and further from the group’s creative locus reached its peak. For the first time, he would not contribute a single composition to a Pavement record, although the reissue includes a few Kannberg songs recorded later, two of which would eventually serve as B-sides. In a curious essay featuring many, many exclamation points which Kannberg penned for the reissue he characterizes his frustration as short-lived: “Although I was kind of pissed initially, not getting to record a couple songs, it mattered more to move forward. I did record a couple songs later… and doing those all by myself helped me realize I could move past Pavement and do my own music one day!”

Estimates vary as to how much of Terror Twilight was finished in the New York frenzy—Nastanovich suggests somewhere between 50% and 80%—so while the sessions had been productive, much work remained. That work took place a few weeks later at RAK studios in London, a storied (and once again pricey) setting where they encountered Chrissie Hynde and Suede’s Bernard Butler recording in RAK’s other two rooms. There they tracked vocals, added various overdubs, and completed the LP’s final mix. Not every member made the trip overseas, and for at least some of them Terror Twilight became a bit of a mystery. Having been unable to solve his parts in New York, Steve West was replaced on drums by Dominic Murcott of the High Llamas on new recordings of the majestic ballad “Major Leagues” and the ribald novelty “Carrot Rope.” Nastanovich claims to have never heard the finished “Major Leagues” until receiving an advance CD some months later.

As the lengthy process of rendering Terror Twilight finally approached its conclusion, one last point of contention remained. Godrich had long envisioned a running order which would foreground the LPs more digressive, challenging material, beginning with the bonkers freakout “Platform Blues” (tellingly known in a previous incarnation as “Ground Beefheart”) and the menacing bad-trip vibes of “The Hexx,” essentially creating a 10-minute barrier of entry for anyone tuning in with the hopes of hearing the next “Shady Lane” or “Gold Soundz.” It was a bold plan, and one which speaks again to the conflicted nature of the project. Pavement had hired a hot producer and spent over $100,000, or $85,000 more than they’d paid to record the enduring classic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain five years previous. Now, with his plan to split the album into a “weird” A-side and a more approachable, hook-oriented B-side, Godrich's well-intentioned gambit threatened to torpedo whatever commercial prospects the album possessed. The band was concerned.

Eventually, a compromise was reached with Kannberg leading the way on a revised running order that toggles between the outré and the confectionary—beginning with the Beatles-esque majesty of “Spit on a Stranger” before segueing into the banjo-driven, stoner-Beat poetry of “Folk Jam” and then returning to the austere and moving balladry of “You Are a Light.” This has been Terror Twilight as we’ve known it for 22 years: a strange admixture of the catchiest and most unsettling music of Pavement’s career, culminating appropriately enough with the lovely and ludicrous “Carrot Rope,” the indie-rock sequel to “My Ding-A-Ling” that nobody but Stephen Malkmus recognized we needed.

The vinyl edition of the new reissue restores Godrich’s original running order, and it certainly makes for a different experience: One side Hawkwind and one side E.L.O. The counterfactual sequencing of old LPs has become a trope of the reissue industry and makes for a diverting thought exercise, but this rearrangement does not amount to an improvement. As much as Malkmus and Godrich had become a creative quorum of two on the Terror Twilight sessions, it may have been Spiral Stairs who was, in that moment, seeing the appeal of the fractious group most clearly of all. “I was always to try to make the best Pavement record possible,” he writes in his essay. And so he did.

Save for periodic reunion shows, Terror Twilight signaled the end. The band toured the LP relentlessly and live versions on the reissue find the band in fine form on rip-throughs of everything from the group-oldie “Frontwards” to CCR’s “Sinister Purpose.” But Malkmus was done with Pavement as a dynamic creative force. As Steve West says in the liner notes: “I think Stephen got to that point where he wanted to move on to a different bunch of people and be able to play with people who were much more confident musicians. I think he did the right thing for him creatively and more power to him. And I know it was a hard thing for him to do. Maybe he could have been more like huggy-huggy about it, but he was really honest about it, and I respect him for that. It was the right time to exit because this album is still creative and different.”

Too creative and different as it turned out to make Pavement the American Radiohead. Alternately diffident and insinuating, Terror Twilight was reviewed with genial confusion and peaked at No. 95 on the Billboard Charts, far from the breakthrough which would have justified the budget. Kannberg compares the record to the Replacements’ polarizing, desultory final LP All Shook Down, when Paul Westerberg consolidated his agency while functionally breaking up his band. That comparison holds true as far as it goes, though musically, it’s closer to Combat Rock, the final Clash album which found Joe Strummer and Mick Jones gloriously and fatally marooned between their most experimental and star-making impulses. It remains a fascinatingly ambivalent note to finish on for one of the most influential indie rock bands of their era, and this reissue, while not necessarily better than the original 1999 release, provides enough context to understand its odd bathos in a new way. It was the album that brought Pavement full circle: dressed for success, but never quite sure if they wanted the job.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Pavement - Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal Music Album Reviews Pavement - Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, April 16, 2022 Rating: 5

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