The Cultural History of Pavement (Hello, Mamaraneck!)


Dressed for success that never comes, with so much style that it’s wasted, Pavement provided their own ambivalent cris de coeur across half a dozen albums and countless however-many-inch whatsits that neatly traversed the ’90s. First materializing under the masks SM and Spiral Stairs, with production/drums by dipsomaniacal Gary Young, Pavement painted over paint, playfully milking a denial of signature for maximum mystery. Their songs uncorked flexible noise, narrative whimsy, and a winning way with metapop—namedropkicking the Smashing Pumpkins, annotating R.E.M.’s Reckoning, and we’re coming to the chorus now—and topped it off with titles seemingly arrived at by some combination of private joke, back-formation, and sortes vergilianae.

If only Rob Jovanovic had gotten into the inscrutable spirit of things; as it is, adherents will devour and be annoyed by Perfect Sound Forever, his good-natured if workmanlike band bio. The U.K.-based author provides some details, misspells New York town names (“Mamaraneck”), and should be prevented from term-paper constructions such as: “It’s been said that the past is a foreign place and that they do things differently there. This is perhaps never more apparent than when looking back at the U.S. music scene at the beginning of the 1990s.”

PSF is most fun as it charts Pavement’s casual formation and early, covert success, Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg’s art-rock conceits bouncing off Young’s wild-man antics. After Young quits, the story loses its most colorful character, and the geographically diffuse, affable personnel (“I was perfectly auxiliary,” says Bob Nastanovich) can be hard to keep track of as they accommodate the charismatic-enigmatic Malkmus—who by the Terror Twilight tour is calling himself “the little bitch” and putting his coat over his head. The end comes, unclearly—as Nastanovich remarks of the final show: “There was no time to feel sad.”