In the Wilderness: Pavement, 1995-1999

In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness is a feature in which a group of Strange Currencies contributors examine an overlooked period of an artist’s career. While originally intended as a podcast, “social distancing” has necessitated a different approach. For the time being, In the Wilderness has taken shape in the form of a “Slack chat.”

For this week’s installment of In the Wilderness, I am joined by J. Long and Tim Ryan Nelson. We’ll be talking about the beloved indie rock icons, Pavement, who arrived with their “lo-fi” masterwork Slanted and Enchanted in 1992, and moved toward a commercial breakthrough with 1994’s classic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

Following Crooked Rain, Pavement released the decidedly “thorny” Wowee Zowee – an album that seemed to stall the band’s march toward the mainstream, but has since become a favorite among many fans. 1997 saw the release of Brighten the Corners – arguably the most “accessible” album in Pavement’s discography. By the time of 1999’s Terror Twilight, Pavement had seemed to accept their status as cult favorites, but the album would ultimately be their last together.

While each of these three records contain several highlights, Pavement never quite recaptured the (seemingly) effortless magic of their first two albums. However, by the time of the band’s brief 2010 reunion, each had earned a dedicated following amongst the band’s devotees. In our chat, three of us devotees discussed those albums:


MR: So, when did you guys start listening to Pavement? J., I know it was before summer 1995 for you, because that’s when I borrowed Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain from you.

JL: I got into them in 1994. I got Crooked Rain when it was new.

TRN: My first exposure was definitely “Cut Your Hair,” and then I don’t think I heard another new Pavement song until “Shady Lane” started showing up on the radio. I got a late start with Pavement, thanks to a roommate back in like 2005.

JL: Part of the reason I was so excited to show you that record, was because “Cut Your Hair” had that line about “No BIG HAIR!!!” I felt like someone else was in on our joke.

MR: I was just trying to remember what prompted me to borrow it from you. I can’t remember if I had heard of them before that. I was reading music magazines a lot during that time, so I’m sure the name had come up somewhere, but there were a lot of bands that I “heard of” long before I heard. I feel like this is one of the more loosely defined “wilderness” eras that we’ve covered yet. Why does this make sense as one? Or does it at all?

TRN: I think it does, but only because Wowee Zowee sort of disrupted their flow for a bit there, but Brighten the Corners is, I think, almost perfect in a non-controversial way. They stumble again withTerror Twilight, although it’s still pretty good.

JL: I think because Crooked Rain felt like the next stage of an evolution, more of a unified piece, then Wowee Zowee was just all over the place – in the best way.

TRN: I’d agree with that.

MR: It seemed like they were really primed for something of a breakthrough at around the time of Crooked Rain. Wowee Zowee is what could have been called a “make or break” album, and it almost feels like they made a conscious decision for it to be a “break.”

JL: It sort of seems that way. We have the benefit of hindsight now.

TRN: It seems that way, but based on the Stephen Malkmus interviews in the Slow Century documentary – and an interview with Bob [Nastanovich] I recently saw – they thought it was full of hits.

JL: “We were smoking a lot of grass back then.”

TRN: Exactly…

MR: Malkmus said he felt like he did a poor job of choosing singles, but I don’t see anything that could have been a better “radio ambassador” than “Rattled by the Rush,” which was the first single.

JL: That makes sense. There are songs in there I like better, but that one’s a great intro.

TRN: You’re right. There are a lot of really, really good songs on the album, but none of them really feel like a single other than that one.

JL: This is the first album on today’s docket, but the last one I heard.

MR: Externally, they seemed to be doing all the “right” things. They were on the Lollapalooza lineup that summer, and yet, even though that was the exact moment that I was getting into them, Wowee Zowee was hardly even on my radar.

JL: Same here. I think there are a few reasons in my case for that.

MR: I remember seeing it in a listening booth at the record store with a somewhat dismissive blurb about it.

TRN: Speaking of Lollapalooza that year, I found out that Gary Young’s [drummer on Pavement’s early recordings] solo project was in one of the other tents for the whole tour – his “Plant Man” band.

JL: “THE PLANT MAN KNOWS WHAT THE PLANT MAN GROWS.”

TRN: Yup, that’s pretty much the whole song.

MR: We really should discuss “Plant Man,” right?

TRN: “Plant Man” isn’t worth our, or anybody’s, time.

JL: I liked how the drums were all covered with moss.

TRN: Plant Man plays plant drums. I don’t know a lot about “Plant Man,” or Gary Young, or why he thought it was a good idea.

MR: Yeah, maybe it’s best left “unexplored.”

JL: I have this weird zine that has a Gary Young advice column in it. It’s as fucked-up as you’d expect.

TRN: That sounds awesome. I can only imagine the kind of advice he’d give.

JL: It’s… mostly unsanitary.

Wowee Zowee, LP (1995)

TRN: So, let’s talk about why Wowee Zowee is good. My favorite Pavement album.

MR: Yeah, we’ve kind of meandered our way toward Wowee Zowee. Named after a Zappa song. I don’t really care for Zappa, but I actually do like the album that song is on [Freak Out].

JL: I don’t think I knew it was a Zappa song.

TRN: Actually, according to the wiki it was named after an expression that Gary Young used to always say – but he was probably just a Zappa fan.

JL: Yeah, I thought it was someone’s catchphrase: [Steve] West or [Bob] Nastanovich. I mean, it could be both things.

MR: I would argue that Wowee Zowee is a very “slow grower” of an album, which probably wasn’t the best strategy in the moment, but it makes for what may be the most fascinating album in their catalog. I still prefer the first two overall, but this may be the one I listen to the most anymore. I’ve had it for over 20 years, but I still feel like I find something new to like every time I listen.

TRN: I was thinking about where it succeeds and fails, and one of its strengths is definitely how “all over the place” it is, as I think J. said earlier.

JL: Yeah, I can see it. It’s the one I listen to most now.

MR: This wasn’t the last album of theirs that I had – I bought it before Terror Twilight came out – but it’s the one that took the longest for me to really get into. It’s a very sprawling album. Those are often my favorite kind.

TRN: Even some of the two-minute songs shift gears several times and end a long way from where they began. “Best Friend’s Arm” is 2:20 and feels like three different songs. Stuff like that holds my attention. It’s interesting songwriting that keeps you guessing.

JL: Yeah, perfect example. That synth always makes me think of a farting robot, and I laugh every time. Same thing happens with “I Want to Break Free” by Queen. Tim, it’s a good point about holding attention. One thing I think about sometimes is, maybe I wouldn’t have had the patience for this album in 1995… or more likely, I would have liked it, but might have under-appreciated its badassness.

TRN: That can definitely be a factor. The album itself is pretty long too, but oddly, it’s a three-sider, not a double. I tried making a fat-free version of this album on Spotify (by making a playlist), only including the longer, more epic songs and it really didn’t feel right without all the weird short ones in the mix.

MR: As I mentioned, Crooked Rain was the first that I had, and then Brighten the Corners. My orientation was definitely their more “pop-based” stuff. I got Slanted & Enchanted a couple of months after Brighten the Corners came out. I loved half of the songs right away, and took a while getting into the others. Wowee Zowee is almost like a whole album of “others.”

TRN: Sure, and there’s not a lot of pop on this one. This is sort of their “White Album.”

MR: Yeah, I’ve seen the “White Album” comparison elsewhere. It makes sense. Incidentally, it took forever to get there, but that may be my favorite Beatles album at this point.

TRN: Yeah, I think it’s the most complex and maybe my fave.

JL: About a year ago, I started thinking about comparisons between this record and late period Beatles – mostly in terms of sprawl and chaos.

MR: Totally. “Chaos” is a good descriptor for both. It seems counterintuitive, but the older I get, the more I seem to like sprawl and chaos in music.

TRN: Love chaotic Beatles. 

JL: Another album that is not exactly sprawling, but benefits from having a lot of goofy toss-offs between all the “greats” is The Replacements’ Let it BeWowee Zowee is similar in my opinion.

MR: I can see that. I think the “pop” stuff on Let it Be is probably more pop, and the “goofy” stuff more goofy, but that makes sense.

TRN: I will say that, for me, Wowee Zowee suffers from “last few songs seem unnecessary” syndrome – partly because two of them are Spiral Stairs [Scott Kannberg, guitarist and sometimes songwriter] songs, and partly because “Fight This Generation” would be a perfect closer.

JL: In terms of the album closer: I’ve always felt like it should have ended after the next to last track.

TRN: I do love “Half a Canyon” – as insane as it is – as a closer, too.

JL: Nothing wrong with “Western Homes.” At all. It just never felt like the natural end to me.

TRN: Sometimes it’s nice to have a silly fun one after a heavy one at the very end – like “Carrot Rope.”

MR: I love the last three for the titles alone. They sound like they should be part of Pavement’s “western” album – and seriously, that’s an album that I want to hear.

TRN: Yeah, there’s a southwestern U.S. theme at the end there. They have a decent handful of country-ish songs – ‘Father to a Sister of Thought,” for example. That was the other single, apparently.

MR: Yeah, love that one.

TRN: I’d like to say a few words about Scott Kannberg/Spiral Stairs. I’ve been thinking about it the last few days, and after rewatching the documentary and doing some Wikipedia reading, I’ve decided that he is actually a pretty solid dude, but I really don’t like his Pavement songs.

MR: There are a couple that I like.

JL: He did “Hit the Plane Down,” right?

MR: Yeah.

TRN: They just stick out like sore thumbs as mostly simplistic, repetitive pop songs, and they usually come on the heels of a Malkmus masterpiece, which makes them sound even worse. But that said, he’s basically the sole reason Pavement got discovered in the first place. Malkmus was traipsing around Europe, while Scott was mixing the demo and getting it into people’s hands. At the end of the doc, after the last Pavement show ever – at the time – Scott was the one hanging back and talking to fans.

MR: He seems like a decent dude. A good “second fiddle.”

TRN: So basically, I’d like to make it clear that if I say anything disparaging about any Spiral Stairs songs or the man himself during this, I’m either joking, or just talking about the song itself. I really wish he was a Mike Love figure for some reason, but he’s just not.

JL: I like what I’ve heard of his songs outside of Pavement.

TRN: I do need to seek out his solo stuff, but his Pavement songs don’t really make me want to.

MR: Anything else stand out from Wowee Zowee? We haven’t mentioned what I think is the best song on it yet.

TRN: I have like four contenders for best song: “Grounded,” “Motion Suggests Itself,” “Father to a Sister of Thought,” “AT&T,” “Fight This Generation” – so five.

MR: Those are all great. “Grounded” is definitely my favorite.

TRN: “Grounded” is so good.

JL: These days, I almost always listen it as a record. Like, all the way through. “Grounded” is awesome. I’ve always really dug “Kennel District.”

TRN: Same. But I have definite highlights that I will sometimes listen to on their own.

MR: Yeah, it’s one that I really love listening to in its entirety. It’s one of those albums that’s really pulls you in. GREAT road trip album.

TRN: “Kennel District” is not my least favorite Spiral Stairs song. I’ll give it that. This being my favorite album, I don’t hate either Kannberg track. I think they both fit, in a way.

JL: Word, I didn’t know that was a Kannberg track.

MR: I don’t think I have a least favorite. They all serve a function. Even “Western Homes” – which could be seen as an afterthought – works where it is. Again, following the epic, it’s a good, quick ending.

JL: A father to a sister to an afterthought.

MR: At first, I read that as “’Father to a Sister’ is an afterthought.” I thought “you son of a bitch!”

JL: No, never. That’s one of my favorites.

MR: I love the video for it as well. The cheap-o western background… The parking lot stuff is less cool.

TRN: Ooh, I haven’t seen that. Actually, if it was on disc two of Slow Century, I may have seen it.

MR: Do you have my Slow Century DVD? Someone does.

TRN: Ha, not me, I swear. I think I rented it years ago.

MR: Bull. Shit.

JL: Not me. Kraut got my copy for me for my birthday.

TRN: I have several of your things, but not that.

MR: That’s okay. I have several things of J’s. Most importantly, the Century 21 sign [a non-musical instrument used as a musical instrument – aka “Realty Thunder Sheet”]. He just needs to have some of your stuff, and we’ll all be cool.

TRN: Nice. J., I’ll FedEx you my Animal House DVD or something.

JL: When I lived in Flagstaff, we had a house for a while, my parents divorced, and they had to sell it.

TRN: Wait, that’s the origin story of the sign?

JL: I didn’t want to move, so every day after school, I took the realtor’s sign, and threw it off a cliff. A day or two later, there would be another one.

TRN: Nice. Stick it to the man. A pretty good plan, to be honest.

JL: I guess I kept one of the signs, but at the bottom of that cliff, there were about 30 more.

TRN: That’s a pretty great origin story. Sounds like sort of a cursed object now.

MR: Anything from the Wowee Zowee B-sides/outtakes stand out?

JL: I really need to spend time with the expanded versions. Does the Pacific Trim EP count among them?

MR: Yeah, I think of that as Wowee Zowee-related.

TRN: It’s been a while since I listened to the whole Sordid Sentinels version of Wowee Zowee, but the one outtake I like a lot is “Give It a Day.” I think there are others, but that’s the one that really stuck.

MR: Yeah, I love that it uses the word yokels. That has always been one of my favorite words.

TRN: Like Cletus. I don’t know if we should spend a lot of time on the outtakes for this though.

Brighten the Corners, LP (1997)

MR: Maybe that’s our transition to Brighten the Corners

TRN: Gotta say, it’s a pretty good album. It is almost completely fat-free.

JL: I got that one new, around the time of its release.

TRN: I didn’t hear the album in full until years later, but when this one came out, “Stereo” and “Shady Lane” were both on the radio where I live, so it was kind of a re-introduction to that “Cut Your Hair” band for me.

JL: “Stereo” was popular on our local alt rock FM radio station, for a couple weeks at least.

MR: I got it pretty shortly after release. Had a tape-dubbed copy for a few weeks first. Weirdly enough, I had some other friends who had it first, who were not previously Pavement fans. They were gushing over it, so I borrowed it from one of them.

TRN: It’s pretty accessible overall. I can see non-fans liking it.

JL: Oddly, I was heavily involved in college radio at the time, and I don’t remember anyone being really into Pavement at all. Which may be part of the reason I never checked out Wowee Zowee.

MR: It seems like Brighten the Corners is the album that Wowee Zowee “should” have been. Emphasis on the quotation marks.

TRN: Right. So, this album does contain my least favorite Spiral Stairs song, and the harshest transition from a Malkmus masterpiece.

MR: So, you really don’t like “Date w/ IKEA”?

JL: I do like that song.

TRN: Well, “Transport is Arranged” is one of the best songs – the line “a voice coach taught me to sing, he couldn’t teach me to love” is one of the best lyrics in any song – and then here comes Spiral Stairs trying to sound like The Byrds, but without a fraction of the singing ability. I think the contrast is what makes me hate it.

MR: “Transport” is great (Mellotron!), but I’ve always really liked “IKEA” too. One of the first 12-string songs that I loved. At least I’ve always assumed it was a 12-string.

TRN: Sounds like it. It’s catchy, but just doesn’t sound like Pavement to me.

JL: Funny, I’m not sure I was guitar-aware enough in 1997 to notice it was a 12-string riff. This album has some harpsichord too, if I recall.

MR: Yep, on “We Are Underused.” Some great keyboard sounds throughout. I’ve always liked the electric piano part on “Blue Hawaiian.”

TRN: There really is a lot of good keyboard usage on this album. The wiki doesn’t say who played keys. I wonder if it was Bob? He is my favorite member of the band.

MR: I know he did some synth stuff in the later years. I’ve always assumed that he didn’t play anything that sounds overly “musical.”

TRN: Right. He’s great as a hype man, but doesn’t seem very musically inclined, which is why I wonder about those keyboard parts, but keys were part of his role at shows, so maybe it was him.

MR: He definitely did weird sound effect-type stuff live, but I think that might have been the height of his musicianship. He could play along with West, but on his own, he’s a pretty rough drummer. Jack and I saw him with Makmus (just the two of them) at a festival. It was cool, but pretty rough sounding.

TRN: As evidenced on that one Silver Jews album.

MR: I agree with the earlier “almost no fat” comment. This is a pretty poppy “accessible” album. Unlike Wowee Zowee, I loved it immediately. WZ has since surpassed it, but this one is still great.

TRN: For some reason, I do kind of like “Passat Dream,” the other Spiral song. Something about it being a little darker sounding is appealing I think.

MR: Like that one too. This is just a solid album. Any other standouts?

TRN: Again, hard to pick just one or two. I love “Transport,” “Embassy Row,” “Starlings…” Those are maybe my tops. All the tracks are good for one reason or another.

JL: I always liked that last track too. “Starlings of the Slipstream.”

MR: “Starlings of the Slipstream” has always been a fave. I put that one on a lot of mixtapes.

TRN: That’s another one where, even if you don’t really pay attention to lyrics, certain phrases just leap out. (Listening) “I put a SPY CAM… in a SORORITY.” “Transport is Arranged” has a couple moments like that too.

JL: “Spycam in a sorority” always reminds me of Revenge of the Nerds. I wonder if they had to give Warren Zevon a writing credit for the “aaaaaa-oooooooos.”

TRN: Ha! Little Richard can take some credit for the Zevon woos, I think.

MR: I remember my older brother coming into my room once when the solo for “Fin” came on. His response was “this dude can’t play guitar.”

TRN: That’s funny. One time I was listening to the first track from Pig Lib [Stephen Malkmus’ 2003 album] in a car with my brother, and he asked if I was listening to a “how to play guitar” CD.

MR: That song is HAAAAIIIRRRRR. Not as hairy as “Witch Mountain Bridge.” That song is SUPER HAIIIIIR.

TRN: I’m sorry, haaaaiiirrrrr?

MR: Shorthand for anything that could be considered RAWK. You know, “tongue out” guitar music.

TRN: Oh okay. That will come into play onTerror Twilight.

MR: I know we aren’t supposed to talk about B-sides, but did you guys know that “Harness Your Hopes” is some sort of bizarro “hit”?

JL: “Gold in Albania.”

TRN: Like, among hardcore fans?

MR: No, among young-ins, apparently.

TRN: (Listening) Oh yeah, I like this song a lot. Kids love cauterizing syrup, and… asses?

MR: My nephew was visiting a couple of months ago, and said “you like Pavement, right? That song ‘Harness Your Hopes”‘is awesome.”

JL: (Listening) Malkmus just threatened to kill my parents.

TRN: Did it become a TikTok song or something?

MR: Sure enough, it has almost 23 million listens on Spotify – the most of any Pavement song.

TRN: Yeah, this song is not appropriate for children. I wonder how that happened.

MR: Seems like an odd song to be their “most listened,” but what do I know… I also recommend “Roll With the Wind.” That’s another good outtake.

TRN: I do like “Roll with the Wind,” and there’s a cover of “The Killing Moon” [Echo & The Bunnymen] on there too.

Terror Twilight, LP (1999)

TRN: Terror Twilight doesn’t hold up to scrutiny as well as I thought it would.

MR: Terror is an interesting album. I was definitely disappointed in it at the time, but I think it’s better than its reputation suggests.

TRN: I always liked it, but I don’t think I really thought too hard about it, or listened to it too closely before. It’s great in the background while building an IKEA desk or something, but it loses me at several points.

JL: I saw Pavement on this tour, but it took me a while to get around to the album. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t buy many albums at all in 1999.

MR: I remember thinking that it struck me as sounding like a Malkmus solo album at the time, but having no guide as to what one of those would actually sound like. Twenty years of solo Malkmus seems to (somewhat) confirm that suspicion. No Spiral Stairs songs, right?

TRN: No Spiral Stairs songs here, but there are some Malkmus songs I don’t like that much, so I can’t really gloat about it. The songs that lose me are the “rawk” ones, which is a style I think he didn’t really get the hang of until a couple albums into his solo work

MR: “Platform Blues” was one that I really didn’t care for at the time. Still don’t love it. I didn’t like “Folk Jam” at the time, but it’s really grown on me.

TRN: I think my lowlights are “Cream of Gold,” “Platform Blues,” and “Ann Don’t Cry” – which is not even a rawk one.

MR: I actually really like “Cream of Gold.” There’s a sinister sound about it that I’ve always appreciated.

TRN: It just doesn’t grab me. I think what makes certain songs lowlights, and what makes me not love the album as a whole, is that I don’t feel any need to sing along. I love singing along to Malkmus’ voice, but some of these songs just aren’t sing-along-able.

MR: It’s less sing-y than Brighten the Corners, for sure.

JL: I hear that sinister thread in “The Hexx” as well.

MR: Yeah, I like “The Hexx” too. 

TRN: Definitely “The Hexx.” Both of those songs have a dark classic rock vibe that I think he really perfected on Real Emotional Trash [Malkmus’ 2008 album].

MR: What do we think about “Major Leagues”?

TRN: I think “Major Leagues” is a lowlight for me too. That and “Ann Don’t Cry” are just kind of boring.

JL: I really like “Major Leagues.” I can also get that it’s probably not what people look for from Pavement.

MR: “Major Leagues” is one of those that always sounded like a Stephen Malkmus solo song to me. You can also really hear the Nigel Godrich production on it. Last week we talked about “Hold on Hope” [Guided by Voices] and I almost mentioned this as a Pavement equivalent. Thing is, I think this one works pretty well. It’s a good song.

JL: Yeah, I can see that. It’s the “Hold on Hope” of Pavement. I seem to vaguely recall that “Major Leagues” was divisive as a track.

MR: I can see that.

TRN: I think “Major Leagues” is fine, just sort of dull. Looking at the overall tracklist, this album is kind of a shit sandwich for me. All my lowlights are right in the middle, but I really like the beginning and the end. “Spit on a Stranger” through “You Are a Light” is solid, as is the stretch from “Billie” to “Carrot Rope.”

MR: I’ve also always seen this album as strong in the front half, but weak in the middle. My strong tracks extend a few beyond yours though.

TRN: I really like “Billie” and weirdly really love “Carrot Rope,” so I think it ends pretty strongly. I like “The Hexx,” even though it shares some characteristics with some of the other songs I don’t like.

MR: “Billie” was always on odd one for me. I feel like that chorus is just awkward. But I do really like the last two tracks, so yeah, it ends strongly in my mind.

TRN: “Sue the fortune teller”?

MR: Yeah, it’s just an “ugly” chorus. I like the verses a lot. It’s just an odd transition from one to the other. I don’t hate “Billie,” but it’s definitely not a favorite of mine.

TRN: I’m kind of a sucker for any time Malkmus plays the vocal melody on the guitar while he sings it. I don’t know why, since it seems kind of dumb, but I like it. Similarly, the “gotta love it, automatic” part in “You Are a Light.” Love that too.

MR: Yeah, I like that one.

JL: “Carrot Rope” is goofy as hell. I don’t typically look forward to it as a highlight of the disc, but if I was driving around and it came on the radio in some alternate universe, I’d blast that shit.

TRN: Like I said before, I think “Carrot Rope” is a great palette cleanser after a pretty heavy song, but aside from that, I really like it in general. It starts very goofy, but by the time it gets to the “simmer simmer simmer down” part, it’s really a pretty typical Pavement song again.

MR: Yeah, I think it works well in that closing spot. They kind of subvert that “end on an epic” mentality that was really prominent in the nineties.

JL: I’ve noticed we have better consensus on what we like about the previous albums, but less so about this one.

TRN: Very true.

MR: Yeah. This has always been a divisive album among the fan base. It’s a weird one.

TRN: No Spiral Stairs songs on this record, but my favorite contribution by him: “SLIM.”

JL: Who sings the first couple notes on “Carrot Rope”?

TRN: Mark [Ibold]. I love how excited he is in the documentary about singing on a Pavement song.

JL: I thought maybe it was the guy from Blur or something – like he just randomly stuck his head in the vocal booth.

TRN: That would have been a cool collaboration. I wonder if he had the gold tooth at that point? I can just imagine this British pirate bursting into the studio.

MR: J. and I rode in an elevator with Ibold once.

TRN: Did you acknowledge him, or play it cool?

MR: I think I was the one who acknowledged him. J’s more of a “play it cool” guy.

JL: Holy hell. I think I almost forgot about that.

MR: It would be understandable. There was a LOT of beer consumed that weekend. We never even talked about “Spit on a Stranger.” We all like it, right?

JL: Yeah, I like that one quite a bit. Like I had the “Rattled by the Rush” single, I had the “Spit on a Stranger” CD single too.

TRN: I like that song.

MR: Okay, at least one that we can all agree on.


MR: I feel like this is gonna be a consensus question as well, but what are the favorite/least favorite albums of this era?

TRN: Wowee Zowee, then Brighten the Corners, then Terror Twilight.

MR: Favorite: Wowee Zowee. Least: Terror Twilight. All things considered, this is a really strong “wilderness” era. Two albums that I think most of the band’s fanbase would consider great, and one with some really good highlights – even if we don’t all agree on what those highlights are.

JL: Whenever I listen to Brighten the Corners or Terror Twilight, I think to myself, “why don’t I listen to these way more often.” So I guess, proof must be in the pudding, based entirely on how often I play each one, it’s: 1. Wowee Zowee 2. Terror Twilight 3. Brighten the Corners.

MR: Wow. We don’t have a consensus.

JL: It’s close.

TRN: Plot twist.

MR: Yeah, I like it…

JL: As I mentioned, it’s based purely on number of plays for me. I think Terror gets a few more spins than Brighten. Closest I can give you to a straight answer.

MR: I will say, J., last time we hung out, we definitely listened to Terror Twilight. I don’t remember which of us chose it, but I was driving, so it was probably you.

JL: You picked it actually, but I do remember it.

MR: Well, there goes my theory.

JL: I –think– you picked it anyway. I could be wrong. We listened to Pig Lib before or after.

MR: HAAAIIIIR. I love that the least hairy song on that album is called “Ramp of Death.”

JL: Yeah. Jesus.

TRN: Love that album. I saw a pretty good Pig Lib-era Jicks [Malkmus’ “solo” band] show too, pre-Janet [Weiss].

JL: It may have been Face the Truth era, but once I saw Malkmus cover “Up on the Sun” by Meat Puppets.

MR: I saw them with Janet once. It was pretty kick ass.


TRN: Let’s do the playlist thing.

MR: I have a trivia question to determine who gets the first pick. Who played harmonica on “Platform Blues”?

TRN: The guy from Radiohead?

MR: I need a name, Tim.

JL: Radiohead Dudegreeenwood.

TRN: Greenwood?

JL: Jonny.

MR: There are two Greenwoods. J. got it.

TRN: Really? Them Greenwood boys and their harmonicas.

MR: He actually joined Radiohead as (exclusively) a harmonica player. Crazy… Alright, J., first pick.

JL: “Father to a Sister of Thought”

TRN: Nice. I’ll go with “Fight this Generation.”

MR: “Grounded.” Round 2:

JL: Here’s where I can pick “Best Friends Arm” without scaring everyone away.

TRN: Good one. “AT&T. ” Eventually we’ll pick something not on Wowee Zowee, I’m sure.

MR: We’re going to pick our fifteen favorites from Wowee Zowee. “Rattled by the Rush.” I’m not blinking first… Round 3:

JL: “Transport is Arranged”

TRN: Damn, that was my next pick. I’ll go with “Embassy Row.”

JL: D’oh!

TRN: Good taste.

MR: “Shady Lane.” Round 4:

JL: “The Hexxxxx”

MR: HAAAIIIIRRR!

TRN: This next one is tough. I know what my number five is. I’ll go with “Stereo” for number four.

MR: “Spit on a Stranger.” Last round:

JL: Hm. “Ann Don’t Cry.”

TRN: “Carrot Rope”

MR: Damn. Do I go with my nephew’s favorite, or acknowledge that Spiral Stairs was a dude who wrote songs and was in Pavement?

TRN: Your nephew’s fave is an outtake.

MR: It’s eligible.

TRN: You want to pick “Date w/ IKEA,” don’t you?

MR: The thought had crossed my mind. “Major Leagues” is still out there too.

TRN: Pains me to say it, but I think “Date w/ IKEA” is more eligible than an outtake.

MR: …and “Starlings of the Slipstream.”

TRN: I almost picked “Starlings.” “You Are a Light” was a runner up too.

JL: If the volume on your phone is too low, “Billie” sounds like it might be “Paradise City” for about two seconds.

TRN: Oh damn, yeah it does.

MR: I’m gonna go with “Harness Your Hopes.” Some good ones left on the table though.

TRN: Definitely. I change “Carrot Rope” to “Paradise City” by Guns n’ Roses.

JL: I was gonna say, whatever you pick should still be #14, so it can end with “Carrot Rope.”

TRN: I agree.

MR: Yeah, I put them in a different order. I’ll put that one at the end.

JL: It’s the natural order of things.

TRN: It was the band’s closer, after all. Sweet. Good talk.

JL: Right on.

MR: It truly was the Wowee Zowee of chats. Rambling, and just under two and a half hours long, but still cool.

Authors

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

  • Tim Ryan Nelson is a procrastinator and agitator who sometimes appears on the “Strange Currencies Podcast” to tell Glenn why he is wrong. Tim refused to participate in ranking the Beatles’ songs for Strange Currencies Music but was eager to rank their albums, if only to ensure that Revolver didn’t win. His favorite music is anything unpopular and annoying. He also likes kittens.

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