We all might miss Pavement, but if we learned anything from Mary Shelley it's that we shouldn't try to resurrect our loved ones.
For the last few years I've been on a quixotic quest to find the "new" Pavement -- quirky, mid-tempo, indie rock band with noodling guitars and clever, oblique lyrics. I'm not the only one who misses them; pretty much every Stephen Malkmus fan does. I thought I'd found it in The Unicorns -- it was going well until they broke up. I thought maybe the Hold Steady would sate me -- instead they just made me want a beer and a few AC/DC cassettes. So far, no new indie record has come close to Slanted and Enchanted and nowhere near Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. While I'd resigned myself to bitching about their absence in reviews, I was glad to discover that someone else has taken fate into their own two hands and crafted a Golem worthy of carrying the torch of Malkmus and Spiral Stairs's uneasy collaborative genius. And the name of this new rock monster is Hockey Night.
Hockey Night's 2002 record Rad Zapping never suggested that they were set to take up Pavement's indie mantle. Rad Zapping exhibited that cheerful love for both high and low culture that characterizes an undergrad art school party; the sort of party where you could dance to R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" while dressed up as a Piet Mondrian painting. The songs sometimes sounded like good songs but mostly sounded like just good ideas for songs, with the whole lovably crazy mess wrapped up in cover art that was a spazztastic collage of Day-Glo paint and '80s magazine clippings.
Which is a vast difference from the cover of the new album, Keep Guessing, with its blue sky and windswept-young-men theme, reminiscent of Malkmus's first solo record. Only a tiny blast of hot pink graffiti spelling out the album title suggests their previous enthusiastic eclecticism. Hockey Night is now officially a real-live rock band. Their new songs run the gamut from the bop-along charm of "Get Real" and "For Guys' Eyes Only" to the Pink Floydesque solo excursions of "Sunset Eyes".
But most significantly, they really sound like Pavement. Singer Paul Sprangers seems to have picked up the flat-toned singspeak that worked so well for songs like "Shady Lane" and "Cut Your Hair". Though the band's press release lists influences of plenty of '70s rock bands, the vocals reveal that any classic rock sound has been filtered through the intervening decades. The song "Renegades" has the distortion-free sound of Terror Twilight and Wowee Zowee while songs like "Grim Break", "For Guys' Eyes Only", and "Cooperation" sound like earlier Crooked Rain and Brighten the Corners material.
It might seem unfair to rate a band almost exclusively against a previous, world-famous act, but isn't that what rock is all about these days? What are we waiting for but to find the next Pavement, the next Gang of Four, the next Velvet Underground? These are impossible shoes to fill; no matter how many bands might try, and how much vain hope we have that it will one day work. And the sad truth is that you can't rock the same way twice. Recreating Pavement hit-for-hit is just as uncool as setting fire to your Strat while jamming out on "The Star-Spangled Banner".
Rad Zapping's quirks might have gotten old soon enough, but I can at least credit it with more surprises than Keep Guessin'. I like almost every song on this new record, especially the fun, party-sound of "For Guys' Eyes Only", and the record just keep growing on me. Yet none of these songs will ever replace my old '90s favorites. We all might miss Pavement, but if we learned anything from Mary Shelley it's that we shouldn't try to resurrect our loved ones. There's a serious difference between a Golem and a Frankenstein monster.