Pavement has never taken itself too seriously (outwardly, anyway), but it at least partially admits its own importance with Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins, a massive double-disc expansion of its 1994 touchstone Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The album's original dozen tracks have been augmented with an incredible 37 more, gathered from B-sides, radio sessions, and most exciting, a near-complete early version of the album, featuring original drummer Gary Young. What might have been a classic album burdened by its own rejected ideas turned out to be a sharp portrait of a band at its creative peak, when nearly everything it attempted worked.
The unnoticeably remastered core album, almost universally acknowledged as Pavement's finest hour, has aged well: Its value has increased now that it's a zeitgeist-catcher, encapsulating the emergence of "indie-rock" as a sonic signifier rather than a business one. Shaggy white kids with college degrees and couldn't-care-less fashion sense found a voice in Stephen Malkmus, a singer who managed to make "sardonic" and "disinterested" into passionately positive descriptors. From the band's poppiest moments ("Cut Your Hair," "Range Life") to its strangest (the Dave Brubeck-inspired "5-4=Unity"), Pavement sounds inspired in a way thatalthough the future would bring excellent momentsit never would again.
The bonus material on disc one corrals the Crooked Rain-era B-sides and compilation tracks, most notably a pair of cheeky but seemingly sincere tributes to R.E.M.: A messy cover of "Camera" is one-upped by "Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence," a weird little story-song detailing R.E.M.'s history. While it's nice to have those oddities in one place, the bulk of disc two is the set's Fort Knox. Twenty-one studio recordings from 1993 track the evolution of Crooked Rain, from excellent songs that never made it out ("All My Friends," "Soiled Little Filly") to early versions that give insight into the loose nature of Pavement's inspiration. (Imagistic, compelling lyrics that may have seemed particularly profound were, it seems, sometimes just tossed off.) There's enough material to construct an entirely new Pavement album, and it was all recorded during the band's peak. To those who already consider Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain a masterpiece of slack rock, it should feel like a gift.