Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 3: Pavement

Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Pavement formed in 1989, but didn't release their first full-length album until 1992. I wasn't aware of the band until the British music press and a friend informed me that they were ripping off my favorite band at the time, The Fall. While that's certainly true to some extent, Pavement's sound evolved into something much more. I now consider them one of my Top 5 bands and they are definitely higher on that list than The Fall.

Although they technically used at least three vocalists during live shows, Stephen Malkmus was easily the biggest influence on their sound. His unusual guitar style almost resembles speech in some songs and he's continued to churn out fantastic songs for more than 20 years. But let's focus on Pavement for the purposes of this installment.

The band's first three full albums contain the vast majority of their best songs. You can make an argument for Slanted and Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain being the best of those, but my personal favorite is Wowee Zowee. I'm a weird guy with unconventional tastes and it doesn't surprise me in the least that I love listening to Malkmus sing. He changes key almost randomly, but it somehow works; just listen to Here and you'll hear how raw his vocals can be.

Wowee Zowee was a departure from the sound on the first two albums. It's longer and employs a variety of styles. The fourth word in the opening song is 'castration' so I don't think it was supposed to be a feel-good album. That said, some of the tracks put the listener in chill-out mode, while others range from prog rock to outright rant or country. My favorite Pavement track, Rattled By the Rush is the second track on the album.

Here's my ultimate playlist of 20 Pavement songs in my preferred order, along with my YouTube link if you want to hear them right now:

Silence Kit
Father to a Sister of Thought
Easily Fooled
Gold Soundz
No Life Singed Her
Grave Architecture
Stop Breathin'
Shady Lane
Black Out
Loretta's Scars
AT & T
The Hexx
Elevate Me Later
Summer Babe
Embassy Row
Range Life
Rattled By the Rush

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