Thursday, April 19, 2007

Notes From Underground—Guided By Voices


(This will be my last musical post for a while. I know there are about four souls who give a shit. I have a bit of academia to catch up with, and sadly it has nothing to do with GBV or rock and roll. Please check in periodically, as I have no plan to abandon my sad pursuit. Anyhow, thanks to those who looked...)

In my last post—a gushing reassessment of Guided By Voices in general and Alien Lanes specifically—I somehow forgot to mention a single song. Separating the wheat from the chaff is nearly an impossible task on an album that is as full of bonafide rock hits as Alien Lanes is, but I’ll try and whittle.

Quickly, here is the chaff: “Ex-Supermodel,” which is accompanied by the sound of an awful snore, a total failure of insolent and beer-drunk decadence.

There is filler, but it is all quick and bracing, and “Alright” is an ideal closing track—instrumental and anthemic.

Here are several of the best.

“Closer You Are”-With an album that is this close to you, the mythical favorite song seems to be in a constant state of rotation. Lately, this has been mine. I was doing laundry and walking back down the Jones Street hill singing: “You play the heavy/it’s a real slick movie move/‘Stoned at the Alamo Tonight’/ the closer you are/the quicker it hits ya-ah-ah,” and I wondered how good a movie Stoned at the Alamo Tonight would be.

“Game Of Pricks”-This may be one of the best songs that Robert Pollard ever wrote, but how could you tell? He’s only written a thousand good ones. “Game of Pricks” taught me how to play C#m on the guitar, a chord I never used again.

“Chicken Blows”-The implicit Beatles reference on the album, and a stellar example of how good strings work in pop music, no matter how crudely recorded. Plus, I have never heard such a sublime harmony triggered by such a seemingly sophomoric lyric: “I’m not here/to drink all the beer/in the fridge…” But as is sometimes the case with stream-of-conscious types—first glances can be deceiving.

“My Valuable Hunting Knife”-After years of listening to this song, I cannot tell if there is a bass and a guitar or just multiple guitars. There is an echoey snare that may or may not be produced by a machine. It is stunning though, how they could construct such pure pop bliss out of scraps and largely fragmentary sounds.

“My Son Cool”-Not that Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand are so different, but this is the type of song that would have sounded at home on the latter, with like minded punk(ish)/wall of sound gems, “Smothered in Hugs” and “Echoes Myron.” “My Son Cool” also references the one Ron Howard movie that does not suck…besides Splash.

“Blimps Go 90”-Yet another example of strings being handsomely incorporated into GBV’s almost junk yard sound; and this song introduced me to Gentleman Jack—the premium brand of Jack Daniels whisky, which I still can not afford to drink.

“A Good Flying Bird”-Sometimes in my head, I picture the relationship between Tobin Sprout and Robert Pollard as vaguely reminiscent of that of Lennon and McCartney, but there is a danger in referencing that relationship, and an impulse in many to make that comparison, even when it is not apt. Tobin Sprout seemed to be an obvious unequal partner, but, as songwriters, they were so different. Tobin Sprout seemed to crave a simplicity that Robert Pollard appeared to abhor. Tobin Sprout never engaged in the same lyrical esoterica or musical fist-pumping that Pollard gloried in; his songs were catchy, extremely succinct, and terribly brief (“A Good Flying Bird” clocks in at just over one minute). His spate of solo albums paint a slightly different portrait, but his work with GBV is terribly economic, poppy and beautifully to the point.



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