K-Lunk / music

Terror Twilight

Music January 7, 2023

Matador 1999

Terror Twilight is Pavement’s last album, as I remembered sometime after putting it on a couple of nights ago. I thought I might borrow The Last Days of Roger Federer’s theme (recently reviewed) of “last things” for my own purposes, and share notes on one of my favorite records.

What does Terror Twilight have to say about the coming end of Pavement and the start of Stephen Malkmus recording with the Jicks and as himself? Below, song-by-song notes from my latest look at one of the great late works in indie rock.

“Spit on a Stranger” eases us into the album with the exhausted grace of a seasoned showman. It’s a bit saccharine, a sarcastic and indifferent melodrama playing at sweetness. I think it’s about becoming jaded, but also seeing a way out of that:

And now I see the long
The short of it and I can make it last
I could spit on a stranger

I see the sunshine in your eyes
I’ll try the things you’ll never try
I’ll be the one that leaves
You high…high…high

“Folk Jam” carries the intensity with upbeat twangy riff rock. If you squint, you can kind of see Malkmus inviting you to follow his solo project for more of the same:

Be as it may, I’m happy to say I’m around
Miles accrued and passengers add up
The message on a mirror says “stick with me”
Cause no one’s there
To read your reflection when I’m gone

“You Are a Light” slows things down with a wandering weirdo warning, one of my favorite lines in rock:

I hear they live in crematoriums
and smoke your remains.

The reverby arpeggio that leads back from the breakdown veers into experimental swirls before resolving into a deliciously slow crunch out without ever losing its charm. A definitive instance of Malkmus phrasing, evocative sing-song gibberish.

“Cream of Gold” – Angry, paranoid – “everyone is after us”. Existential.

time is a one way track
and I am not coming back

To me, too broody and sinister to be a favorite, but the riff, once slow, once again doubled in bold distorted lead guitar, then stretched wailing out into the distance, is a marvel.

“Major Leagues” drawls with a clear country-western tone. A soaring bass line carries the chorus to stirring heights. The tone is earnest, spent, resigned, with sentimental drooping verses.

They’ll wear you down sometime
Kiss the wine
Magic Christians chew the rind
Cause bad girls are always bad girls
Let’em in

“Platform Blues” offers another stunning chunky riff through the bridge, this time alongside an absolutely shredding harmonica (I think?). The tone is again sinister.

The lion reaps his own reward
Serengeti nightmare for the echo tour
You’re a nice guy and I hate you for that
Thanks to people like you I’m no longer that

This one peters out into baby talk and winds down the side.

The ballad “Ann Don’t Cry” kicks off the second side. I love the lazy vocal melody’s shadow in the burbling echo of an underwater reverb-laden guitar. The bridge is an awkward lurch, ludicrously downtempo. We have in effect a flat declaration that time has run out:

The damage has been done,
I am not having fun anymore.

By the end of the track the reverb has dried into a crisp brightness as the guitar picks up into “Billie,” which soon enough gets to rocking out. Albeit whistfully:

Sue the fortune-teller
Rue the rising tide

“Speak, See, Remember” is the title track, another midtempo rocker with guitars following complicated vocals through a lot of verses. The production stands out here, a million miles away from Slanted and Enchanted. It’s easy to read a sense of an ending into it:

The terror twilight
It all to get down for it
The terror twilight
It all to get down for it

The next line is a signature Pavement hook, absurd syntax in the service of a goofball rhythm.

To love in the find in the creatures, the air
You’re hangin’ around
God loves ya, but what could he do?
My friend, you’re hangin’ around
God loves ya, but what could he do?
What could he do?

The answer is wry, the most devastating mockery of boosterism since Babbit:

Buy now
Develop the coast and raise the
Sight lines, the oceans are moving out and
Someday develop the coast and sell the air
You know if we could we’d sell the air

Stand back
Expansion is what we do the best
I don’t see the grass and the fields
I see an epicenter with agendas and you are aware they must be next
I hope you’re aware they must be next
Do it, do it, do it

I’m left with the sense that by its end, Pavement was a machine to a lot of people where you put in dollars and get out more dollars, not art, and the incentives were becoming increasingly diffuse. For those of us who have jobs, that’s just normal, but I suppose to artists it’s torture to feel that way and you’d want it to end. Going solo is a kind of corporate restructuring.

“The Hexx” plods along from an emotional low through some moody marching to a beautiful swell in the final act. With an ironic look back at the melodrama of “Speak, See, Remember”, the lyrics reflect obliquely on a career in music, compared to some other options:

Architecture students are like virgins
With an itch they cannot scratch
Never build a building till you’re 50, what kind of life is that?
Stalled out on an escalator wishing which way to return, up or down
My Palestinian nephew got his face blown off in a dusty craft

“… And Carrot Rope” is the last song on the last Pavement record. It’s the catchiest one on the album, with a squelching cutesy triumphant chorus. The band sings to itself a sweet nonsense lullaby and it’s over.

SPIRAL: I want to say
SM: It’s my second hand wonder
A thing that recovers the doubt
SPIRAL: Slim door
MARK: Like a rainstorm, you’ve got to do
What you want and say it

In interviews Malkmus has talked a bit about feeling held back by his band. But I can’t help but see Matador – the label, the business people – as “the wicket keeper,” and the “carrot rope” as the incentives that leads artists into the system, away from their autonomy.

A carrot rope, feed my thrill
I got beat by weather
A carrot rope, feed my thrill
I got beat by weather
Carrot rope, feed my thrill
It’s time to get me off of the grounds
The wicket keeper is down
The wicket keeper is down
And he gets me off of the ground