Turning Old Corners

Pavement has returned to the way they were -- whatever that was

There are plenty of critics and indie music fans who think Pavement will have a hard time topping what they've generated so far. Formed in the late 1980s, the band's earliest records -- the EPs Slay Tracks, Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever, as well as the 1992 full-length debut Slanted and Enchanted -- were made mainly by Malkmus (who went by S.M.) and Kannberg (who went by the nickname "Spiral Stairs"). The EPs established Pavement as a leading newcomer in the independent music underground, while Slanted and Enchanted took Pavement aboveground and was lauded as one of the year's best records.

The next CD, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, saw the arrival of West and Ibold in the lineup, and became the first CD recorded primarily by the full band. It was also a watershed in that critical praise for it exceeded the encomiums bestowed on Slanted and Enchanted. Pavement seemed primed for a major breakthrough, and then came Wowee Zowee, which was greeted by a distinctly mixed reception. Considering the glowing reviews so far, though, Brighten the Corners appears to have restored luster to the band's critical reputation.

Of course, mainstream pop fans may not understand what all the clamor is about. Pavement has a way of sounding disjointed, and even though the band frequently uncorks an accessible and appealing guitar pop hook, it's just as apt to quickly sidetrack the hook with some quirky left turn. This approach pops up frequently on Brighten the Corners, where songs such as "Shady Lane," "Stereo" and "We Are Underused" offer glimpses of pure pop before twisting toward weirder musical territory.

To Nastanovich, the odd jumps in Pavement's music are a big part of the group's charm. "I think that just comes from the type of guitar rock that the five members of this band really love," he says. "We like pretty skewed and strange guitar stuff. We use all kinds of alternate tunings, and I think all of us are ... all five members of this band ... at this point, half our lives [we] have liked pretty strange rock music. So we try to be pretty confusing. That's sort of what entertains us."

Pavement performs at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Thursday, May 29. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Royal Trux and Bis open. For info, call 629-3700.

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