Music | CD Revue: Death Cab for Cutie & Pavement Reissues 

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Pavement Brighten the Corners
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Death Cab for Cutie Something About Airplanes

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I find it very hard to listen to ’90s music. Give it a couple more years, and maybe that nostalgic itch will strike. Until then, I just can’t look back on the joyless (albeit artistically rich) era fondly. However, recent reissues of seminal ’90s bands may prove that my reservations are unfair and, well, wrong.

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Pavement’s reputation precedes itself as being one of the most influential bands of the ’90s but, much to my editor’s great dismay, I’ve never heard any of the band’s albums. Matador’s reissue of the group’s 1997 LP Brighten the Corners is as good of a springboard as any to dive into the Stephen Malkmus-iverse.

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“Shady Lane,” the album’s moderate hit, came out at a time when radio bands were becoming increasingly silly (“chickity China and the Chinese chicken,” anyone?), and it would be easy to throw Malkmus & Co. into that category with the single’s rapid-fire delivery and too-clever lyrics [note: editor is clenching her jaw; balling her hands into fists]. But it has aged beautifully, and the “Oh my God” chorus refrain is genuine bitter-sweetness from a typical jokester.

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Much of BTC borders on controlled-chaos, which makes it so charming. Malkmus’ voice can shift between monotone sing-speak to spot-on perfect pitch, which almost seems accidental (and clearly an influence on The Dismemberment Plan). When they’re not straight out rocking (“Embassy Row” or “Date w/ Ikea”), the guitar noodling and vocals struggle to decide who is leading, each threatening to leave the other in the dust. When Malkmus is addressing the actual music on bonus track “Cataracts” (“let’s move to the ride cymbal … that sounds the best”), it’s clear that Brighten the Corners is a monument of its time, untouched by countless imitators.

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Barsuk’s reissue of Death Cab for Cutie’s 1998 debut, Something About Airplanes, confirms what fans have claimed (often rabidly) since “Soul Meets Body” got huge a couple years ago: Death Cab has been a killer band from the get-go. Vocalist Ben Gibbard’s introspective, hyper-literate lyrics on “Champagne From a Paper Cup” and “Amputations” are good enough to appease anti-emo elitists and still make girls swoon for the awkward, bespectacled singer. Although the album drags on occasion (which is still better compared to the cheesy production of Chris Walla’s later work), it’s hard to beat the payoff of a song like “The Face that Launched 1,000 Shits.”

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About The Author

Ryan Bradford

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