Within Pavement’s brilliantly art-shambled oeuvre, Brighten the Corners has always been the record plagued by the middle-child syndrome: The first three albums (the frenzied studio experiments of Slanted and Enchanted, the warm, classic rock-imbued Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and the schizoid sprawl of Wowee Zowee) have all secured their places in the pantheon of Classic and Immortal Rock LPs, and their fifth record, Terror Twilight, is allowed to get by on its spacey, mellowed Nigel Godrich-styled charm and as a melancholic farewell to the band.
That leaves Brighten the Corners occupying a darkened, underrated corner of Pavement’s catalog. As an album that collects and streamlines the wilder sounds of its predecessors, it was the first record in which Pavement ceased to surprise and simply went about the business of being a touring and recording rock band. The album comes complete with its own set of cohesive sonic signatures that, for the first time, weren’t scrawled large across the face of rock and pop culture by five anarchic twenty-somethings but were modestly etched by a group of increasingly mature performers.
All of which is why Brighten the Corners, in its own way, benefits the most from the two-disc retrospective treatment. Although the repackaging and collector’s-edition reissuing of the previous records was wonderful, it was for albums already acknowledged as some of the best collections of electrifying indie-rock since, well, ever. By expanding Corners to include B-sides and rarities as well as demos of songs that would emerge on Terror Twilight, a fuller and more satisfying view of Pavement’s most underrated era can be heard.
Alternate versions of songs — such as the snarling “Slowly Typed,” a noise-braced reconfiguration of the gentle “Type Slowly” — expand the originals’ sound to include the band’s wilder tendencies without surrendering to nostalgia or rehash. The loose, ragged and bloodied radio sessions reinterpret the record through hyperactive live versions that are just as chaotic and freewheeling as anything this side of “No Life Singed Her.”
Several bonus tracks — most especially two takes on the ridiculous Space Ghost theme — inject the sense of absurd and humor that, “Stereo” aside, was oddly missing from the original album. Songs such as those, as well as a mountain of shambolic, livewire B-sides and covers of heroes and influence ranging from the Fall to Echo and the Bunnymen, help add a sense of balance and ballast to Brighten the Corners. It makes for an expanded vision of the original while at the same time proving that the original’s vision wasn’t quite so narrow after all.