Release Date: Mar 9, 2010
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Pavement have a fairly small catalog-- five full-length albums and a handful of EPs, plus a compilation of early singles. Over the past decade, their B-sides, radio sessions, and assorted rarities have been repackaged into a series of excellent reissues, which has made it easy to be a Pavement completist without blowing a lot of cash. It's all very accessible, but it's not easy to know where to start.
Quarantine the Past opens with “Gold Soundz,” which originally appeared on Pavement’s well-loved Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. As one of the band’s most unabashedly poppy moments, it’s a deceptive way to begin a retrospective. Though the California five-some flirted with writing straight-up pop tunes—whether it was the oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh coo of “Cut Your Hair” or the charm of “Date With Ikea,” both of which are represented here—the band was hailed as an indie messiah for its less-obvious moments.
Pavement’s first compilation takes its title from a lyric Stephen Malkmus sings on “Gold Soundz,” a line about how “you can never quarantine the past” -- which, of course, is precisely what a retrospective like this intends to do, to present a nice, tidy overview to accompany the group’s 2010 reunion. Of course, it’s always difficult to assemble a best-of package for a band that never had any hits, and Pavement only had one -- 1994’s alt rock puncturing “Cut Your Hair” -- which means it’s possible to endlessly quibble about the other 22 tracks on Quarantine the Past, especially since the compilers decided to leave the singles “Father to a Sister of Thought,” “Rattled by the Rush,” and “Carrot Rope” behind, and fan favorite Wowee Zowee is represented by just two tracks, the same number culled from the 1992 EP Watery, Domestic. That might seem an idiosyncratic choice, but there’s no arguing that “Frontwards” and “Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)” should be here alongside “Here,” “Summer Babe,” “Box Elder,” “Debris Slide,” “Grounded,” “Trigger Cut,” “Range Life,” “Shady Lane,” and “Stereo,” the songs that provide the foundation of any strong Pavement overview.
Thrust blinking into the cold light of iTunes by a new ‘best of’, the fear is that Pavement’s star might somehow struggle to cast its sputtering glow with quite the kaleidoscopic luminance it did in the mid-Nineties. But, even though Quarantine the Past threatens self-parody with its engineered deformities, the fear soon proves a deeply irrational one. This is a surefooted but defiantly lopsided collection, unabashed at the few glaring omissions which are inevitable on any Pavement retrospective weighing in at fewer than, say, 50 tracks.
Pavement's legacy can't be contained on a single disc, but this compilation sure tries its darnedest. Put together by the band members and conveniently released to coincide with the start of their reunion tour, it presents a non-chronological cross-section of the quintessential 90s band, attempting to summarize a career that can't be summarized. [rssbreak] The album contains some indisputable classics (Here, Summer Babe, Shady Lane) but aims to dig deeper than the hits.
Old, gold soundz Quarantine The Past is a quintessential Pavement title—cryptically self-skewering and cagily ironic. Back in the ‘90s, the quintet made guitars sound like ambivalent shrugs and bratty convulsions, and wore their thwarted ambition like a badge of honor. Listen to any current band that recasts classic rock as a shambling, sensitive, brainy thing and you’ll see Pavement’s influence.
If the music of Pavement seems dated in 2010, don't worry; there's nothing you're "not getting." Despite being one of the more heralded American rock bands of the 1990s, Pavement's influence was primarily on a narrow American subculture, and not on American culture at large. Most Gen Y'ers (those born 1981 or later) are too young to remember Pavement at their peak. The fact that Pavement's reunion has drawn unprecedented ticket sales in ways more popular bands of the era have not says more about the dominance of Generation X tastes of Generation Y music fans than about the music of Pavement itself.
First, some obligatory greatest-hits nitpicking. Where is “Stop Breathin”? Honestly. As much as it pains me to hear “Summer Babe” displaced from the opening track, kicking off Quarantine the Past with “Gold Soundz” gives a good indication of why Pavement is the kind of band that deserves a best-of collection. The guitars intertwine beautifully, but with a bite and looseness that suggests some punk in their ancestry.
They appear to have worked out how to finish things on a high. Andrzej Lukowski 2010 Pavement were always a brilliantly awkward bunch and apparently remain so, having picked a very peculiar selection of tracks for this compilation, released to tie in with their imminent reformation tour, but overdue nonetheless. Stephen Malkmus and co were simply too good a band for Quarantine the Past to actively flounder, but its early stages really are surprisingly hard work.
Is there really anything more to be written about Pavement? They’ve already become the touchstone in indie circles, with everyone from Robert Christgau to Los Campesinos! repping the band’s significance – and their sound, demeanor, and overall appearance have literally developed into the primary colors of the whole concept of indie rock. Quarantine The Past: The Best of Pavement comes after a decade of constant re-releases, bonus discs and live albums, so it shouldn’t surprise that it comes off as a final, all-encompassing victory lap. Luckily the tracks chosen reach deep enough to make it at the very least a respectable ‘best of’ compilation.