Some albums herald nightfall. Pavement announced the state of their union with the inauspiciously titled Terror Twilight—that perilous window between sunset and dusk where only half the cars have on their headlights and traffic collisions are common. It’s befitting of the acrimony surrounding the creation of the band’s final album. One anecdote goes that Stephen Malkmus would spend downtime hiding under his coat, refusing to engage his bandmates. Another says that he squandered precious studio time playing Scrabble. Then there’s the track order dispute, Malkmus’ refusal to include any of Scott Kannenberg’s songs, and the opening line from “Ann Don’t Cry”—”The damage has been done / I am not having fun anymore.” (Yikes!)
For all the animosity, the overdue reissue, Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal, argues that Pavement sound as good after dark as during a gold-sounding summer. The record shows that even when their helmsman has his headlights off, moments of crystalline excellence are still possible. The plaintive stargazer “Major Leagues” is one of their best-aged songs. This 45-track behemoth features a veritable cornucopia of B-sides, demos, and the abandoned session at Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon studio, plus the original album reordered in line with producer Nigel Godrich’s proposed sequencing.
Part of Twilight’s charm is its consistency. The songs are divided into three categories: hard rock tunes, “standard mellow tracks that we can do in our sleep that sound pretty”, and pop songs, as revealed in an interview with The Quietus. The revised tracklisting opens with “Platform Blues”, a disheveled hard rock din, and ends with the enchanting pop lullaby “Spit on a Stranger”. A handful of other edits feature on the original album. A one-minute interlude, “Shagbag”, expands the whirring Moog from “You Are a Light” as discordant organ clunks find their way to “Speak, See, Remember”. This one now features an irritating egg shaker and a different vocal take, though the cross-stitching guitar coda is intact. The rhythm guitar from the chorus of “Carrot Rope” is also dropped. These intricacies may slip under the radar for fairweather listeners but will keep others—myself included—up at night.
Terror Twilight is already well acquainted with criticism. The record’s denigration, when viewed alongside Pavement’s preceding work, is partly attributed to Nigel Godrich’s aerodynamic production and partly—as Robert Christgau wrote on the album’s release—to the absence of a “frantic hang-on-for-your-life moment when you either pay attention or embrace brain death.” Although Farewell Horizontal may not assuage that complaint, its expansive tracklisting contextualizes the 11 songs that made the initial cut and acts as a harbinger for Malkmus’ nascent solo career.
“Folk Jam Moog (SM Demo)” is Malkmus indulging his krautrock and electronica proclivities—fully realized on 2020’s Groove Denied—with a revelry of squashy synth play that bears little resemblance to the final track. “The Porpoise and the Hand Grenade”, frolicsome and unpolished, foreshadows solo tracks like “Phantasies”. There’s even an early version of what would become “The Hook”, known here as “Be the Hook”.
Elsewhere among the rubble are a smattering of songs written by Kannenberg, the earnest foil to Malkmus’ misanthropy, and generator of reliable pop-rock nuggets. One of these, “Stub Your Toe”, which first appeared on the Major Leagues EP, is a rebuttal to “Ann Don’t Cry”: “Now that it’s over, what will you do? / After all the fun times are all over you.” It’s an archetypal Spiral Stairs offering à la “Kennel District”—an innocuous guitar ostinato undercut by a motorik drum beat and glazed with an oohing vocal melody. There’s also “Preston School of Industry”, the product of a forced writing experiment documented by the Dutch television series Lola da musica (1994–) and the namesake of Kannenberg’s post-Pavement solo excursion.
Terror Twilight has always been at a disadvantage. It’s the last Pavement album that listeners reach. Not just because it was the last to be released—I was three years old in 1999—but because it’s the album that the enchanted elders decry. But it’s easy to jump on that bandwagon; it’s harder to like an album whose creators didn’t want to see it made and takes place seconds before night fell forever (at least until 2010). Yet a sect of fans have called—yearned—for the underdog to receive the same reissue treatment as its predecessors did in the mid-2000s.
Whether time has ameliorated the record in Malkmus’ eyes, or this is a chip-cashing attempt to bolster ticket sales, Farewell Horizontal will please those who want to hear six different versions of “You Are a Light”. For those who understand that even after the damage has been done and the 1990s have reached their denouement, Pavement can still make us feel like we’re standing on a precipice gazing at a twinkling night sky, a yellow dog by our side and perfect sound forever in our ears.