by Miranda Hale
Pavement, the most influential and original indie-rock band to come out of the '90s underground, has finally been immortalized in an authorized group biography. Pavement released seven full-length recordings along with multiple EPs and singles between their formation in the late '80s and their breakup in the late '90s. Rob Jovanovic, a music journalist who has also written biographies of Beck and R.E.M., tries very hard to capture the spirit of Pavement's brainy, literary, ironic, and all-around brilliant art-rock aesthetic, but often falls short.
The book is laid out with the DIY/cut-and-paste aesthetic of a fanzine. Straightforward, chronological textual information is interspersed with photos, little handwritten sidebars, and early reviews of the band, along with set lists, old promotional material and old correspondence between the band and record labels. But much of this non-textual information seems thrown in randomly, without explanation or reason. This works in the sense that it lets the reader know that this is not a traditional biography of any kind; rather, it is a playful, unruly biography in the artistic tradition of the band. But a few footnotes or captions wouldn't have hurt in clarifying the story.
However, in attempting to capture the fundamental nature of the band, Jovanovic focused almost solely on the layout and visuals of his book, and didn't worry too much about capturing it in his writing. While his passion for the band and its musical and cultural milieus is unquestionable, he takes the band and their story too straightforwardly, frequently failing to see the seriousness buried beneath the seeming flippancy of lead singer Stephen Malkmus' lyrics. Jovanovic hits all the chronological bases: the formation of the band, the albums, touring, the rise and fall from temporary mainstream fame and the eventual breakup. But he only succeeds in capturing the essence of the band on a surface level. And that's disappointing, because this book could have been so much more.
Perfect Sound will appeal, however, to Pavement enthusiasts, indie-rock fans, or anyone fascinated by the almost mythical rise and fall of a band. It's a specific, contextual story (of Pavement's history) at the same time that it's a broad, general story (of the growth and demise of any band). In that, Jovanovic succeeds. This is a flawed book, but its subject matter alone makes it definitely worth a read.
Publication date: 08/12/04