Let’s get this out of the way upfront: “Harness Your Hopes,” “Stop Breathin,” “Zurich is Stained,” “Carrot Rope,” “AT&T,” “Major Leagues,” “Pueblo”. This is my list of songs that, immutably, must be present on a best of Pavement compilation, and are absent on Quarantine the Past. I’m not unreasonable. There’s no way this compilation was going to hit everyone’s favorites and I’m not deducting any points for not meeting my specifications, as the 9.5 indicates. Moreover, I’d have a hard time picking any songs from this expertly assembled compilation to excise in favor of my unincluded choices. But I dearly love the songs mentioned above, and it seemed necessary to sing their praises while the opportunity was available.
Other than the petty grievances above, I can’t think of too much to whine about regarding Quarantine the Past. I suppose I’d have like to have seen Wowee Zowee better represented, though the two that made the cut (“Grounded,” “Fight This Generation”) absolutely belong. Terror Twilight received the least representation; one track (the glorious “Spit On A Stranger”), but that’s probably for diplomatic reasons, seeing as how that album is almost universally considered to be Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album.
Most of these songs though, there’s not a whole lot more to say about them. If you’re new to Pavement, this is a fantastic place to start. All of their poppiest moments are here (“Gold Soundz,” “Shady Lane,” “Range Life”), and they sound just as breezily innovative and fresh to me as they did when I was first introduced to them. A stricter Pavement fan might insist that a couple of their loopy, half-formed songs (“Hit the Plane Down,” “Brinx Job”) should be present, if only to give a more complete picture of the Pavement universe. That’s a fair assessment, yet there’s no denying the joy of hearing the band’s undeniable gems lined up in such a pristine fashion. Besides, whoever was in charge of assembling Quarantine the Past went to the trouble of cherry-picking some of the band’s finest rarities and b-sides (“Frontwards,” “Box Elder,” “The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence”). In short, there’s plenty here for the neophytes, the casual fans, and the obsessives.
It’s the newbies that I envy. Quarantine the Past is a crash course on one the most essential acts of the past couple of decades. Whatever new fans they gain as a result of this compilation’s release won’t need to listen to a gaggle of die-hard Pavement fans offering contradictory advice on where to start (it was Brighten the Corners for me). This best-of handily serves the purpose that all best-ofs should; it’s a primer on a band that is crucial to understanding modern indie rock. It’s also a reminder that, as far as brilliant pop songs delivered with slack attitudes in questionable tunings go, nobody does it better.
P.S. I realize this review has been little more than an extended love letter to Pavement. Some things get me geeked out, I suppose.