(Pseudo [UK], 1994)
I’m not here to pick fights. (Not unless you want a piece of me, then I’m all in.) I’m here to talk your ear off about the tunes I like, and if you like the same tunes, fantastic. If not, whatever, talk about what you want to talk about, I’ll chime in if I can be bothered. Honestly, it’s cool.
So by this token, I want to talk about Pavement. In fact, give me some likeminded individuals, a few cases of beer, and all the time in the world, I’ll talk about Pavement the whole time. Pavement is favorite.
But see, I’m kinda picking a fight. I’m picking a fight with Tiny Mix Tapes, one of my favorite music sites. They’re reliably hilarious, and cover the off-the-beaten-path stuff that I’m fascinated by. They even have a running blog called “Delorean” that features all kinds of past records, whatever strikes the writers’ fancy. But I’ve got a bone to pick with “Delorean.” In particular their coverage of the unofficial Pavement UK bootleg Stuff Up the Cracks. Read it. I’ll come back to it.
I stumbled upon Stuff Up the Cracks in a record store in 1995, the year after Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain made me believe in music like nothing else. I’ll pause for effect. An honest-to-goodness record store. We still had those in Pennsylvania back then, and for some reason, the one I was in happened to stock this far-out, obscure compact disc that I had never seen before, or had even heard about, for that matter. It was one of those actual manufactured silver CDs too, not some CDr knockoff. The real deal. I bought it for the price of a regular CD too (I think the store was trying to purge excess import inventory, and even so, this was the only copy there).
And despite what most of these oddball imports back then featured – terrible crowd-recorded live shows – this one had not one but three Peel Sessions,* a few rare-ish studio recordings, and the obligatory live appendix. This was the mother lode for the burgeoning indie geek.
*Side note: Gary Young apparently couldn’t be bothered to show up for the December 1992 session, and so “Nasty” Bob Nastanovich played rudimentary drums on the tracks. It’s not as bad as you’d expect, but the other sessions are superior
I don’t think I realized the full import for another couple years, not until college where my full-fledged Pavement worship could blossom. By then I knew that the only piece of music on Stuff Up the Cracks that was available anywhere in any commercial capacity was “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,” Pavement’s ridiculously awesome R.E.M. fetish song that somehow juxtaposed the Georgia quartet’s career with Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s path of destruction through the state during the American Civil War. It appeared on No Alternative, the 1993 AIDS benefit album that you should all know. But that’s it – even though other songs would crop up in different forms, the exclusive-to-recycled music ratio is surprisingly favorable.
And while the Peel Sessions are the highlights here, “Jam Kids” and “Haunt You Down” were released as a limited-edition 7-inch in the first pressing of Crooked Rain on vinyl, so as difficult-to-come-by pieces of music, these rank pretty high on the can’t-believe-I-have-a-version-of-these-ometer. (Don’t want to brag, but somehow my brother scored a copy of the 7-inch a couple of years ago. So while I don’t own it myself, there’s a copy in the family…) They’re kind of tossed off, though, and it’s easy to see why they were culled from Crooked Rain’s final tracklist. And after listening to them again this time around, I’m actually surprised at the clarity of the crowd recordings on some of the live songs, rendering quite palatable the otherwise unavailable “Sebadoh/Helen Stones,” “Voguing to Shane McGowan,” and “Mother Mary,” as well as a still-gestating version of “Grounded,” here titled “Dying on the Streets.” (Don’t get me wrong, in the end they still sound pretty shitty, but you can hear all the parts fairly well at all times, a rarity on primitive handheld tape recorders.)
“Brink of the Clouds”
The Peel Sessions have since been remastered and re-released as extras on 2002’s Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Redux and 2004’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.’s Desert Origins, but between 1994 and 2002, Stuff Up the Cracks was the only place they existed. And that made my record collection just a little bit extra cooler than yours over those eight years – unless of course you also somehow had a copy of Stuff Up the Cracks. But enough about that – not only were the Peel Sessions chock full of songs that never saw the light of day anywhere else, but they also served as a forum for reinterpretation of already-released songs (the bombastic version of indie ballad “Here,” the definitive alt version) as well as for songs that would see the light of day elsewhere (“Pueblo Domain,” an early version of Wowee Zowee’s “Pueblo” and “The Sutcliffe Catering Song” which would later be released as “Easily Fooled” on the Rattled By La Rush EP, along with “Brink of the Clouds”).
But it’s “Circa 1762” that stands out as the true gem of the session tracks, with its fully formed melody and Malkmusian tossed-off lyrical genius about drummers and bands that culminates in what could only be a call to arms: “Light the burnt match! And stick a flag on it.” It could fit anywhere in their early discography – on Slanted and Enchanted, on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, even Wowee Zowee if you squint hard enough, but it didn’t even show up as a B-side or compilation track anywhere else – it’s here, in the John Peel Session from June 1992, that it makes its sole appearance in Pavement’s discography. It’s a curiosity, and one I’ll probably ponder a long time as I shake my head in disbelief at the quality of the band’s discarded tunes.
I could really go on and on about these songs, but I’ll rein it in and name-check the punky weirdness of “Kentucky Cocktail,” the understated and underappreciated tunefulness of “Ed Aims” (or “Ed Ames,” depending on the release notes), and the Silver Jews cover “Secret Knowledge of Backroads” that I once heard on the radio when I was a teen. Pavement’s version. I know. (Although I’ve not had the good fortune to come across Dime Map of the Reef.)
In the end, this glimpse into such a fertile period of Pavement’s career can’t be understated – we were lucky to have something like Stuff Up the Cracks to show us that, and we – OK, I was lucky enough to get my grubby mitts on it and share it with my fellow Pavement fans. This was before the Internet took all the fun out of seeking out strange and unusual records, so there’s some extra satisfaction in my discovery of this one.
“Ed Ames/Ed Aims”
So where does that leave me and TMT? Look, it’s all good. I’ve got it out of my system. I’m not saying that the TMT writer did a bad job or anything, I’m just not convinced he gave Stuff Up the Cracks more than the obligatory listen, at least from what I can tell from the Delorean entry. I’m also not saying this review does a better job of placing the record in proper historical context. What I am saying is that Stuff Up the Cracks deserves a better retrospective, especially from an outlet as respectable as Tiny Mix Tapes (although they’d probably scoff at that “respectable” part), and that its importance – mainly to me, but undoubtedly to others as well – should not be understated. I’ll leave it there.
RIYL: Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, The Fall, early Built to Spill