When Pavement split after touring their fifth album, it was hardly a surprise. They’d always been a strange entity, not really a band at all in the conventional sense. Formed by Stephen ‘SM’ Malkmus and Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg, two Stockton, California friends into hardcore and the gonzo surrealism of The Fall and Captain Beefheart, they were on shaky foundations from the beginning: after recording their first EP, Slay Tracks 1933-1969, Malkmus took off to Europe, leaving Kannberg to release it, and was surprised to find a finished copy in a record store on his travels. After success came, they still took breaks after each album without knowing if they would reconvene.
Much of that ambivalence, it seems, stemmed from Malkmus, whose apparent disinterest was countered by his preternatural way with a tune and brilliant, fragmentary lyrics. Terror Twilight has plenty of both, though it was perhaps less obvious in 1999: Pavement’s noisy abandon and freeform irreverence had long been eroding away, gradually replaced by a stately classic-rock feel which didn’t seem quite as hip. Even the group seemed embarrassed by the record, much of it recorded at London’s palatial RAK Studios with the producer of OK Computer: they played almost nothing from it on their 2010 reunion tour, while Matador are only now releasing this deluxe edition, 14 years after Brighten The Corners’ 10th-anniversary reissue.
Yet Terror Twilight, it appears, has had something of a raw deal. There’s long been talk of Nigel Godrich’s rejected tracklisting, and the vinyl format of this deluxe reissue – named after a KW Jeter sci-fi novel, an early title for the album – follows the producer’s suggested sequencing. It’s something of a revelation, and casts the album and its contents in a much better light than the jumbled order they went with in 1999. To borrow modern parlance, Terror Twilight has become the best version of itself: it begins with the cut-up mania of “Platform Blues”, Jonny Greenwood’s harmonica honking over Devo’s idea of blues-rock, followed by ghostly epic “The Hexx” and three more of the album’s slower, stoned tracks. It functions as a suite of heavy psychedelia, leaving Side Two for the album’s lighter tracks, including the slick balladry of “Major Leagues” and the jam-band skip of “Folk Jam”. Originally the opener, “Spit On A Stranger” now takes its rightful place as the majestic closer. We also get a brand new track, “Shagbag”, a minute of synth noises which ups the weirdness factor. If Terror Twilight ever sounded weary or staid – and it did, a little – then Godrich’s sequencing revitalises it.
Though the production is a long way from the hail and fuzz of Pavement’s earlier days, the remastering underlines just what a fantastic job Godrich did. He provides his usual bespoke whooshing and glistening, but it suits the songs, especially the crushing, sad “Ann Don’t Cry”, and “Cream Of Gold”, its picked guitars softly glowing. Malkmus is on excellent form throughout, in fact, his guitar work on “…Gold”, “Platform Blues” and especially “The Hexx” among his most sensational. While there are no wiggling pigs or Pumpkins jibes, Terror Twilight contains some of his funniest and most memorable lines: “Watch out for the gypsy children in electric dresses, they’re insane/I hear they live in crematoriums and smoke your remains”, he sings on “You Are A Light”, while “The Hexx” begins with a line about the homing skills of Capistrano swallows and then addresses someone “destined for the paupers grave”.
Though the motherlode of unreleased music found on Slanted And Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’s reissues is absent, many of the extra tracks here are worth checking out. Malkmus’ demos, all tinny synths, flailing guitars and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, are fascinating for a few listens, and the closing live material proves ’99-era Pavement were as sloppy and thrilling as they’d always been. In between, there are cuts from the many aborted sessions Godrich and the band held before RAK: highlights include a shimmering instrumental version of Kannberg’s “Preston School Of Industry” with molten slide guitar, “Ground Beefheart”, an unhinged version of “Platform Blues” from Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon studio, an unfinished “Spit On A Stranger” with Malkmus on electric 12-string, and an enchanting eight-minute “You Are A Light” from Portland’s Jackpot! Studio.
There’s also “Be The Hook”, an unheard song that pairs Stones-y boogie with Malkmus’ sarcastic hipster chat. Two years later, it would morph into “The Hook”, a piratical rock’n’roll tune on his eponymous debut solo album. If that reinforces the notion that Terror Twilight is an inessential stepping stone, the end of something and the beginning of something else, then the rest of this set shows that it’s still a station very much worth stopping at, now more so than ever. Do as those Capistrano swallows do, and “please return”.