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Published: 2004/12/01
by Benjy Eisen

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.‘s Desert Origins – Pavement

Matador Records

When Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was originally released in 1994, it was a revelation album for me. I was listening to waaaay too much Phish and MMW, if you know what I mean, and kind of thought that the last of the great American rock bands had died the month Kurt Cobain killed his own private Nirvana. I didn’t think that rock was dead. I knew it’d come back. Eventually. In the meantime, I figured I’d dedicate myself to the next great American movement, which – at the time – looked like it might stem from seeds planted in the Eco-Saloon at the Wetlands Preserve in Tribeca.

Well… the first, almost-disastrous notes of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain royally fucked my plans. Rock was not dead. It did, however, retreat underground again, and that was fine since, after all, that’s where all the real action always was anyway. By the time I bought Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement was already in full swing. They had yet to peak in popularity, though they’d already restored the credibility of indie rock. They weren’t even trying, and if they were, well, then they were deceptive marketing geniuses. More likely, the media picked up on their who-gives-a-fuck presentation and spun it as a story for the bored rock press.

Well…years later, while sipping tea at the Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus would tell me that much of that homegrown presentation (mainly, their raw studio sound) was more a result of budget restraints than any visceral urge, per se — although he did admit that the band felt an instinctual adverse reaction to all the "big sounding" albums that were being released at the time, with reverb on the drums and slick production throughout. Pavement didn't need to be slick. Its music wasn't about precision or plastic melodies that could be inoffensively broadcast in waiting rooms and shopping malls. Pavement's music relied on aesthetic guts and cerebral balls. It's what carries Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

Bryce Goggin did some mixing on the tracks, but the disc was otherwise mostly in the hands of the musicians. Pavement had recently dropped original drummer Gary Young and yet, around this time, they finally began to sound less like a jam session and more like an actual band. And in many ways Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain feels like the first actual Pavement album, despite the fact that their preliminary debut, Slanted and Enchanted was a formidable entrance.

Well…that album is now a relic. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, however, remains a vibrant listen and contains many of Pavement’s greatest songs. So now, 10 years after its release, Matador Records has reissued a deluxe-edition titled Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.‘s Desert Origins. This double-disc expansion features 49 songs. The original only had twelve. Eleven of these songs were previously unreleased in any form, and as the press release is pleased to point out, in a way you could say they form a lost Pavement album. Well…sure. The problem with most repackaged classics – including the Slanted and Enchanted reissue from 2002 – is that the "bonus" tracks are commonly salvaged from the cutting-room floor, or from trash bins or song dumpsters. There’s usually a mini live set of the album tracks – often faithful renderings – and then a bunch of works-in-progress or abandoned test runs. Songs that got discarded because they weren’t worthy enough the first time around. Or because their inclusion would’ve interrupted the album’s cohesiveness. They were ugly ducklings that didn’t belong here.

Well…expanding Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, a five-star album that got it right the first time, faces all these challenges. It overcomes most of them and clumsily skirts around the others. I use the word "clumsily" in only the most endearing of ways, you know. Pavement always was one of those stumble-in-the-dark types, and these extra tracks, recorded during their honeymoon era, are no doubt clumsy, no doubt great.

Most of the additions on disc one are culled from various Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain-related EPs – what used to be called b-sides – including the slightly hilarious "Haunt You Down" and "Jam Kids." And then there’s the odd homage to R.E.M., "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," that originally appeared on the benefit compilation No Alternative. Delightful, innit?

Why yes, it is.

Disc two is where it's at for the true Pavement fan though. The first eight tracks are all early demo songs from 1993 that the band recorded with Gary Young still on skins — the aborted portion of the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain recording sessions. Fans of songs like "Range Life" and "Stop Breathing" will appreciate these baby versions for what they are. The next 12 tracks are from additional recording sessions, followed, naturally, by Peel Sessions. Some of these songs fans will recognize, others they won't. Some of the "new" songs are of the stream-of-consciousness sort that Pavement was legendary for being able to compose on the spot, including ad-libbed lyrics. Others are of the pre-written sort that could sit comfortably alongside any of the other material Pavement was producing in the mid-90s. Though still early in their career, they were a band that were easily on a creative plateau at this time, producing exciting, refreshing songs that were both psychedelic and heady, and yet, breezy enough to skate to. Delightful, innit?

Why yes, it is.

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