"Brighten the Corners" remains Pavement's most settled, accessable rock record, straddling the divide between their cleaner early sound, and the more out-there later work.
But being a transition work doesn't mean that the band eschews their musical sound or their indie roots. Rather, they just polish up the howly vocals and multilayered musical arrangements, and the result is pretty mellow and pleasant -- and while the original album is excellent, the "Nicene Creedence Edition" is a small treasure trove for fans.
It starts off with the intermittently bombastic "Stereo" ("Pigs, they tend to wiggle when they walk/The infrastructure rots/And the owners hate the jocks/With their agents and their dates") before shifting to the mellower "Shady Lane" and uplifted sound of "Transport is Arranged."
A more raw sound enters with the fun rockers "Date with IKEA" and lighthearted "Embassy Road," while a plaintive confusion arrives with "Old to Begin." The remaining songs harken back to their indie roots, with the monotone jazziness of "Blue Hawaiian" and the weirdness of "We Are Underused" and "Passat Dream." It ends on a pretty strong note with the vaguely ominous "Fin," in which Malkmus requests, "I trust you will tell me/if I am making a fool of myself..."
And the "Nicene Creedence Edition" adds plenty of extra stuff to the original -- for instance, thirty-two B-sides. It's obvious why some of them were cut (the jostling, intermittently good "Winner of the"), but several are also solid second-level Pavement songs (the tight, jangly "Roll With the Wind," the kooky Beatlesesque "Birds in the Majic Industry").
And there's some notable life performances spattered in there: we get some brilliant John Peel sessions, a tightly performed BBC evening session, a few KCRW songs, and even "Type Slowly" from a Tibetan freedom concert. And there are just some odds and ends (the buzzing tapping "Oddity") that seem to be there to fill out the corners.
"Brighten the Corners" is something of a bridge over musical waters for Pavement -- it serves to connect the lo-fi scratchiness of their early work to a more polished sound in their later work. Sure, there are some cries of "sell-out" that spring to mind. But Pavement's sound transfers to the smooth studio sound without losing its complexity or raw magic.
The guitar riffs are as good as ever, starting and stopping one moment, and whirling around Malkmus's vocals like a dense tornado the next. They run the full range from fuzzy to bluesy, from sharp-edged rock'n'roll to jangly loose melodies. Layered over that is some solid percussion, some coy beepy-bleepy snatches of mellotron, as well as what sounds like a wavery flute, giving a feeling of vague vulnerability to the lost-soul atmosphere.
And while Malkmus will never sing in the opera, his soulful monotone is wonderfully well-suited to the haunting overtones. The songs themselves have a certain feeling of confusion, as if the world is bewildering and chaotic. "I heard what you said/the leaders are dead/now they're robbing the skies/you can hear the followers cry..."
Pavement was still in solid form in "Brighten the Corners," and the Nicene Creedence Edition adds a sumptuous wealth of extras onto a deserving, underrated little classic. Definitely a must-listen for the Pavement fan.