It's hard to believe that Pavement has made it to the five-album mark. Formed in Stockton, California, by lo-fi-loving smartasses Steve Malkmus (then just S.M.) and Scott Kannberg (a.k.a. Spiral Stairs), Pavement released a few scattered singles and an EP before unleashing Slanted And Enchanted in 1992. That record, a free-flowing, rough-edged indie opus, reminded the world that the underground was well and good. The hype led to staggering sales for an independent release, but Pavement seemed uncomfortable in a music market that no longer had a rock under which to hide. Instead, Pavement hid behind its rock, refusing to invest its music with conventional arrangements and opting for oblique, almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics. While the band continued to release good records, Pavement was branded a bunch of arch pranksters who cared more about Scrabble, horse-racing, and art than making music. That's when the break-up rumors set in, but the time and effort invested in the new Terror Twilight seems to indicate that the group has no intention of throwing in the towel. Without a doubt Pavement's most polished releaseā€”even Malkmus has been joking about singing in tuneā€”Terror Twilight is pop with only a minimum of wink-wink pretentiousness. It's possible that producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Jason Falkner) just opted not to take any shit in the studio (or maybe Pavement, given his paycheck, opted not to dish it out), but Terror Twilight features the band at its melodic best. "Spit On A Stranger" and "Major Leagues" actually resonate as more than in-jokes, while such tracks as "Folk Jam" and "You Are A Light" sound as akin to The Band as they do to The Fall. In fact, much of Terror Twilight's remainder has a certain jam-rock quality to it, but where once that merely meant the music was sloppy, here that stems from Pavement's apparent concentration. Malkmus' lyrics are as skewed as ever, and his singing is dead-on and clever; could that falsetto be a Smiths reference on "Platform Blues"? It's almost out of character for the band to release an album that sounds like it actually cares, but that's just the kind of surprise that keeps Pavement compelling.

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