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Monthly Archives: December 2007

@192+ kbps at least


What spectral force, illusion, or trick of light has fooled so many erstwhile critics into apologizing for Robert Pollard over these long years since the broadly accepted twilight of Guided by Voices’ reign over the (very nearly) barren kingdom of indie rock as we now know it? The sum of all the criticism heaped on GBV for years (excepting Do the Collapse– universally agreed upon as the absolute nadir of the band’s catalog), all the way back to Mag Earwhig!, has amounted to barely more than a weak-kneed “wait ’til next year.” And we waited, and some of us are still waiting, while others have simply given up; critics have been crying wolf for years, so who can really blame folks for finally losing faith?

So how did he do it? Critics, notoriously, are jackals, trying, always trying, to thin the herd, to cull the sick and dying at the first sign of weakness; Pollard, it would seem, has been staggering around on his last legs for three or four not-so-hot-to-lukewarm albums (if that sounds like revisionist history, it’s only ’cause history was wrong in the first place). And yet he still lives! How? His only defense, I now submit to you: pure enthusiasm, a forever-young charm; I can see no other explanation. There have been plenty of unlikely rock heroes, but after fifteen (!) albums, only Robert Pollard still sounds, for all the highs and lows, like an ex-schoolteacher trying to live the dreams of his idols, still trying to grow into Pete Townshend’s arena-sized shoes. Deep down, I firmly believe, even Pollard’s critics want him to succeed, or at least would rather forget him than be forced to say he failed.

By now, you’ve seen the ratings (go on, look) and if even the expectation of the phrase “better than the last few GBV albums” stirs only cynicism within your jaded insides, it might just be the case that you’re in healthy working order. As a reformed Robert Pollard apologist, I will not ask you to see the promise of better things to come from here or wait ’til next year; I’ll go one better: Earthquake Glue meets any GBV album that isn’t named Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. It sounds improbable, but all I’m asking you to believe is that Bob’s year to finally make good on any incubating potential he’s shown since the halcyon days of Tobin Sprout has finally arrived. A “Guided by Voices album” has meant too much, for too long, to too many (and if you need reasons, I just mentioned both of them), but this isn’t a normal GBV album. This is Bob Pollard at his most direct, most natural, and finally ready to shake the stadiums down to their very foundations.

It’s no secret that Bob Pollard’s Who-caliber aspirations have been leaking into his work way back since he had a devil between his toes– you can hear Roger Daltrey turning green with every swelling power chord of “Wished I Was a Giant” and earlier. He’s masked it for a long time with whimsically beautiful lyrics, lo-fi production, and generally keeping the guitar windmilling to a minimum on soft-spoken classics like “Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”, but it’s been fully silenced. It hardly needs to be said, but when folks describe you in terms like “whimsical,” like a Dr.Seuss character-cum-pop superstar (the main character in Robert Hears The Who), filling Madison Square Garden ain’t gonna be easy, probably impossible. But steadily, Bob’s realized this and begun shedding the belovedly quirky trappings of his past; what’s felt like “falling off” for so long was really gradual metamorphosis into a different beast entirely.

Earthquake Glue differs from any past incarnation of GBV; the anthems here are realized to the fullest height of their earthly majesty, with no real pretense of the muddy indie aesthetic GBV helped to usher in out of sheer fiscal necessity more than a decade ago. This is not the shiny, breezy pop rock and crunch of Isolation Drills; “I’ll Replace You with Machines”, “Beat Your Wings”, “Apology in Advance”– these are smoke machines, strobe lights, and pyrotechnics. And Bob, with his vaguely raspy, vaguely British lilt, sits center stage, twirling his microphone, pumping his fist with the practiced air of a rock star who truly has “been around the block,” and in a nod to his various ups and downs, “even threw up one street over.” He “keeps searching, turning on, equally frustrated,” but without any hint of self-conscious indie antics, maybe no longer; whether brooding on the shiftless, railcar blues of “Dirty Water” or transcendent on “Dead Cloud”, Pollard never struggles to find powerful vocal hooks. It finally seems effortless.

Even more surprisingly, it doesn’t sound like it’s just Bob’s show anymore; GBV is no longer a euphemism for “Robert Pollard and his faceless, rotating cast of backing musicians”– these guys actually sound like an honest-to-god-swear-on-some-bibles band. There’s actual, intangible chemistry between Doug Gillard and Nate Farley’s explosive chords and Kevin March’s cymbal washes. Most importantly, Tim Tobias gives Pollard something he’s lacked since Alien Lanes: a memorable bass melody that isn’t devoured by jangling guitars. Think back to “Echoes Myron” or “My Valuable Hunting Knife” and it’s easy to recognize how necessary those basslines are; for exactly one track, Tim Tobias almost single-handedly revives the old magic.

“The Best of Jill Hives” is a GBV classic by any measure, new or old, and, like the best of Pollard’s lyrical work, is made even more meaningful by avoiding his effective, but impenetrable, stream-of-consciousness. “I know where you get your nerve/ I know how you choose your word,” he calls out, and like the wounded beauty of “Game of Pricks”, it doesn’t sound like a clever fiction, but like something that happened between real people. It’s a single, brilliant, bittersweet concession; contrast that “old” sound with the sheen of “Useless Inventions”.

Some may mourn the change, but I contend that in its own way, “Inventions” is equally classic. Endlessly catchy, as tight and triumphant as anything Pollard has ever done, this song epitomizes the unfettered, imaginative re-invention of GBV, immersed in the hard rock tropes Pollard has until now only toyed with. Side by side (nearly), it’s clear that GBV has subtly crossed over into truly uncharted (though nearby) territory; after playing into the same well-worn channels they’ve run for years, there’s no more fuzz, no more elf-kicking to conceal Pollard’s hard-rock dreams; as such, Earthquake Glue never languishes in the awkward lows that seem to plague almost everything else he’s done.

In the end, it’s fitting that the idea of soldiers and warriors recurs throughout the skewed landscape; GBV has been dumbcharging at the music industry for fifteen years, and Pollard and all his various lineups have the battle scars to prove it. In some ways, it’s a shame that in order to revitalize the idea of GBV as a band it seems to have meant abandoning the very facets that made GBV a household name around only the hippest households so long ago, and that could be the deepest wound of all. But Pollard’s perseverance has shown him to be a hell of a soldier, and if that cut still stings, he’s not letting on. In fact, closer to the end of the battle now than the beginning, he and Guided by Voices still might be a long way from filling stadiums, but they’re not going down without a fight.

-Eric Carr, August 25, 2003

192kbps MP3

Imagine the heaviest, most fuzzed out garage rock you’ve ever heard, now take that and run it through a handful of distortion pedals, a bank of Acid Mothers worthy FX, blast it through a wall of busted old Vox amps, wrap the whole thing in feedback and reverb, and suddenly you’re in some alien alternate future where the world is populated exclusively by Japanese noiserock beatniks, who are constantly blasting fuzzed out walls of overblown sixties sounds from their low flying spacecraft…

Imagine if Merzbow remixed your favorite Fuzztones record, or the Stooges released records on PSF and were augmented by some insane drug addled organist with WAY too many amps. Serpentine blues rock riffs, all tangled up with thick warbling organs, the vocals a snarling distorted howl, buried in the mix, and all dubbed out, the drums a crumbling, percussive pound, somehow as in the red as the rest of the instruments, every cymbal crash swallowing up all the other sounds, but it’s the riffs, and the organ, and Masonna’s wild eyed vocalizing that keep this blacklight space garage party going. Not to mention the killer hooks… Virulent Fuzz Punk A.C.I.D. perfectly captures how intense and freaked out it must be to experience this sound live, super distorted, feedback everywhere, the instruments in your face, the speakers threatening to blow, sweat, blood, spit, a swirling chaotic musical melee, heavy, distorted, fuzzy and funky, wild and woolly, spaced out and gloriously gloriously noisy.

320kbps MP3

A product of the tightknit Bronx underground posse D.I.T.C., Runaway Slave is a cornerstone album of hip-hop’s middle school phase. Building on and borrowing from the layered, jazz-influenced sound of such contemporaries as Gang Starr and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Showbiz & A.G. affixed a gangster mentality to grainy, fortified beats, etching their own unique style. While the crossover “Soul Clap” and “Party Groove” are club cuts, the rest of the album is more densely expressive. Showbiz and his talented peer Diamond shape their beats around simple, deep drum tracks — but add subtle loops of chaotic horns, loose strings, or abrupt piano notes to create concise and hard-hitting overtures.

Tasteful flute swatches light up “Silence of the Lambs,” an ear-ringing saxophone buzzes on “Still Diggin’,” and the motor mouthed late legend Big L introduced himself on the classic down-the-line jam “Represent,” pulling such punchlines as “MCs be braggin’ about cash they collect/But them chumps is like Ray Charles ’cause they ain’t seen no money yet.” The young A.G. (aka Andre the Giant) flows effortlessly throughout this album, an MC whose skill and unique voice would only mature in the future. While some of the import of this album is muted by modern-day technological sound booth advancements, Showbiz & A.G. did it raw and undiluted and the resulting sound was fresh, innovative, and most of all satisfying for hip-hop heads.

by M.F. DiBella

192kbps MP3

A collection of all of Pavement’s low-fidelity early singles and EPs, which feature considerably less melody than Slanted and Enchanted. It’s nice to have this rare material on one CD, although the music is defiantly anti-CD. Those who boarded the train with the acclaimed Slanted and Enchanted should catch up on what they’ve missed.

This 1993 disc compiles all of Pavement’s pre- Slanted & Enchanted seven inches and EPs, including “Slay Tracks”, “Demolition Plot J-7”, “Perfect Sound Forever”, and “Summer Babe”, plus a couple of compilation tracks from their earliest stages. This is Pavement in all their dissonant, embryonic fury. Noisier than Slanted, more obtuse than Wowee Zowee, these long-out-of-print discs were a veritable hipster haven, until the world got to hear them, that is. Then they were just pretentious.

The moral: hipsters suck, Pavement rule. Take heed, kids, fuck The Fall, buy American.

-Colin McElligatt

192kbps MP3