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18 October 2016

Gunter Hampel and his Galaxie Dream Band - 'Angel' (Birth/Jubilee Edition)

The 'classic' Gunter Hampel record is the first one, The 8th of July 1969, being a recording from just that day which merges the American and continental European approaches to free music of the time, with Anthony Braxton and Jeanne Lee meeting Willem Breuker and Arjen Gorter, among others. But his catalog beyond that record is worth a dip, especially if you can come across these 'Jubilee Edition' releases, reissuing some recordings from the early 70s at what was then a discount price. And also if you like vibes. Angel finds Hampel and Jeanne Lee working together again, with a young Daniel Carter on saxes and Enrico Rava, plus a few less known names (I thought bassist John Shea sounded familiar until I realised I was thinking of former Manchester United defender John O'Shea). This is recorded live on WKCR in New York, 1972, and thus has that raw, slightly scratchy sound associated with radio recordings - the energy of the live audience can't be felt, though I guess the energy of potentially millions of listeners could replace it, in a virtual sense. These guys were certainly up to the task, opening with a fluttery collection of wind instruments (there's five musicians here blowing into things, plus Lee's voice, Paul Bouillet's guitar, the aforementioned Shea, and Murugar's percussion hanging it all together on a wire frame). No one takes front and centre, until the middle of side one when the guitar chords have a 70s waka-chika sound and Carter's tenor repeats a three note theme over which everyone else goes wild, circling and circling and never quite coming to a test. Things evolve collectively, the digging of heels gradually lightening and a dare I say 'swing' feel coming in. Hampel switches to his vibes and makes a nice off-kilter groove with the rhythm section, though Murugar is fluttering about on the toms and making the rhythm felt through the absence of a strong drum pattern. It's masterful, and it's slightly sneaky the way it creeps out of the angry birds at the beginning. Side two continues, veering back and forth from open, quick jabs of winds and more fluid passages. It's all held together by Hampel's compositional sense, which is just there enough to be felt while allowing these musicians the full spectrum of expression. I'm not always sure who is who (Rava's trumpet is largely underrepresented) but as the Galaxie Dream Band, it definitely congeals into a band form.

15 October 2016

hamaYôko ‎– 'Shasô -Train Window-' (Entr'acte)

Not really sure about this one - I think this was a promo that I never did anything with, or maybe someone sent it to me looking for a show. Thanks to it's generic white sleeve I never notice it, and it's likely lurked on this shelf back since 2009 when (according to the discogs authority) it was released. hamaYôko is the pseudonym of a Japanese sound artist and choreographer and this is a 45rpm EP of pieces I suppose are inspired by train windows. It contains semi-melodic electronic compositions (with spurting, extremely digital processing around warm sine waves), singing wordless female singing, and field recordings from around the world (dutifully credited in the liner notes). 'Akai Pool' is loaded with splashing water, mixed high above the rolling composition and sounding a bit like two recordings smashed together. 'Icewater's March' has some sampled tuba, and throughout you hear children's voices, because of course you do. I don't want to be too hard on this, but this record illustrates the difficulty in adeptly, not clumsily employing field recordings or musique concrete techniques. There's not much nuance here in terms of how the parts fit together, and it doesn't feel like there's any sort of 'vision' here beyond the discovery of computer-based editing and a curiosity about the world of overheard sound. Some tracks have a rhythmic momentum behind them ('Headeck' is almost a strange pop song, and probably the high point of the record, where it has that feel of things being pulled apart, yet still held together) but others seem to be potpourri-blends of recordings, without a sense of what it's actually trying to express. Or it could be that my white male Western ears are approaching this from my own biases, because of course I am, and if I was able to open up to the worldview of ms. hamaYôko then I might be more forgiving. But I'll take my field recording-based music more minimal than this (my own collaborations excepted, of course) and put this one on the sell pile.

Hair Police - 'Prescribed Burning' (Hospital Productions)

The cover of this is stark and minimal, and the inside of the rough cardboard is screened with a pattern that makes it almost the inverse of Obedience Cuts. On the first half, Hair Police is far away from the active machinations of Obedience - it's rather 'mellow', though that's probably not the correct word to use when describing music this dark and desolate. Prescribed Burning could work as a horror film soundtrack, except it's tonality is so low-key and it's accents come from processed, reverb-laden sounds of indeterminate origin (really, it's not even clear what is electronic here and what comes from acoustic or human sources) that I would imagine it would make any such film a distraction. And there's not necessarily a horror lurking here, just unease and confusion. The two lengthy pieces that start side 1 (untitled, as are all of them here) are spacious, with clanking sounds and drones ebbing and flowing. The third, a short track to lead into side two's more aggressive start, feels like something incidental that was scrapped from other material. If you listen closely, especially on the second track, you'll hear some backwards-processed sounds, suggesting this was more of a studio work than it may sound like upon first listen. Side two then explodes, at least relatively, with churning, grinding distorted sounds, beacons of higher pitched feedback, and the feeling of forces pulling themselves apart. It's closer to the 'Hair Police' sound, though it doesn't feel like the deconstructed "band" they do when appearing live, and it's not completely clear if all three members are actively involved in this. But kudos to Hair Police for not painting themselves into a corner, especially during this time, the peak of their self-described 'gnarly times'. Yeah, that infamous t-shirt they made became their unofficial slogan, written across the two sides here in the run-out grooves, and perfectly encapsulating the Bush/Cheney/Iraq/post-9-11 years in America better than any other two words could. I said before how the decline in output from this American noise underground was more likely an incorrect perception I hold based on my own waning interest/involvement, but I also tie it to the political changes in America - not that Obama's election in 2008 ushered in a progressive era, not by any means - but certainly the mindset changed in some way. And before y'all comment on how ridiculous this is, I'm not saying that noise music changed because of Obama, but that the music created during the Bush years reflected feelings of frustration, anger and hopelessness (at least to me) while never quite embracing nihilism or self-destruction, and one can connect this to a general cultural zeitgeist in a way that enhances the interpretation of such music via context, etc. None of which is really relevant to describing side two of Prescribed Burning, which apart from the first cut stays in the sparse groove of side one - not necessarily gentle, but spacious, with start-stop rhythm, the momentum being a lurching crawl. Not many distinct vocals are audible here - by this point it seems like Mike Connelly was using his voice purely as instrument so it's going to be processed beyond recognition (though some deeper, guttural growls are evident). I still hold onto this connection to free jazz - that Hair Police are in some strange way a jazz group - and think this would be like Marion Brown's Afternoon of a Georgia Faun side one if it were transposed to this time and place.

Hair Police - 'Blind Kingdom' (Ultra Eczema)

We only get one side here, but it's a doozy, 16 minutes of Hair Police creating another (I assume improvised) sound-based hellscape. This one starts slow, and finished slow, but uses the space to have screeching, maniacal vocals which sound more like highly compressed feedback, all manner of clanging, echo-laden percussion, and synthesisers galore. The opening moments set the tone with some bold synth notes and some of the most clear filter sweeps (or phasing, or whatever that effect is called) yet heard in the Hair Police oeuvre. At points the low end cuts out entirely and shrill oscillations fill the whole soundstage, waiting for the sludgy, static-laden undercurrent to rise back up to meet it. There's some pretty great interplay here, and not just three noiseniks playing on top of each other without listening. The electronic processing is more conventional compared to the earlier material's sound of circuit-bent toys, but this benefits the analog synth waves which rise up like the phallic urge depicted on Dennis Tyfus's cover art. Side two is all etchings and I suspect if I tried to play it, it might still sound like Hair Police.

Hair Police - 'Constantly Terrified' (Troubleman Unlimited)

A year later from Obedience Cuts and it's clear that Hair Police have definitely 'progressed' as a band, but describing exactly how can be a challenge. But why else do this if not to challenge myself, to attempt to articulate music into words, futile as it may be? Constantly Terrified is four long cuts, beginning with a low rattling and slowly building into the full-on assault of 'Rattler's Echo'. This is like one of those great free jazz sides from the 70s recorded live, where a group builds to a total interplay of free expression, except here the aesthetic is much more a white/basement/scuzz one. But that's not a massive depature from the world of ESP Records circa '68 - Trevor Tremaine's drumming is not unlike that of Sunny Murray, and if you replace saxes with homemade/hacked electronics, this really could be a bizarro, hung over Globe Unity recording. Connelly's voice is yelping and shrieking and everything seems so violent, yet cohesive. And then it fades out and we get 'The Haunting', where slowly bending tones make a warped bed for the buzzing, scraping and hiss to interact on. The drumming is fake primitive, lots of floor tom and stickwork, and the processed vocals (I guess?) give this a really nasty, sick edge which suits the cover art's portrayal of fear and helplessness. It suddenly ends, in a locked groove of bassy rumbling which mirrors the low rattling at the start of the side. On the flip, 'My Skull is My Face' is built around a monotonous rhythm, with echoing drones (so beautiful they could be taken from a new age record if not juxtaposed with such teethy bile) and more vocal caterwauling. And the title track closes it out, which is an experiment in stasis - a holding pattern which nonetheless has a great diversity of sounds within it's edges, but never giving into the clichés of dynamics. It's here that maybe Hair Police have set their M.O - that is to be 'Constantly Terrified', where the monotony and feeling of being trapped reigns supreme. Overall it's an utterly unpleasant LP, but that was the idea, and it's executed marvelously.

11 October 2016

Hair Police - 'Obedience Cuts' (Gods of Tundra)

This is Hair Police's second full-length album but the first where they really found their footing, and it's enjoyable to revisit it after so many years. 'Let's See Who's Here and Who's Not' explodes immediately into a lurching, violent chaos, and it's home-recorded at just the perfect fidelity. A lot of warm, thick electronics blanket the sound - what I'm struck by on the first side is just how incredibly warm this sounds, which isn't all attributable to the vinyl version specifically but Hair Police's preferred frequencies (lows and low-mids). Trevor Tremaine's drumming is sometimes overwhelmed by it, and you can hear his cymbals and snare flailing about, cutting through the mix now and then, and he's content to pull back (or maybe he contributes some other role to the mix). The aesthetic is dark, as the puke-green ink on the cover hints, and unpleasant, but there's a life in this music that finds itself during the quieter moments. The title track is one such place, where the sturm-und-drang pulls back and lets the oscillations take over. This sound-soup is where I most enjoy Hair Police - there's a real subtlety to their interactions, a tension that swells and never releases in the way you'd expect from a regular 'band' vibe. 'The Empty Socket' on side two almost approaches the Dead C's 'Now I Fall' before it tumbles down the hill; 'Bee Scrape' likewise ends up in a rolling ball of noise, but one that has synths slicing through like a ninja throwing star. Robert Beatty might steal the show on this record, but it's hard to tell where his noiseboxes end and Mike Connelly's feedback guitar begins; even the drums get heavily processed with echo on 'Full of Guts', and it gels really, really well. There's a few more Hair Police records coming up and it's funny now to revisit this music after what doesn't feel like such a long time, but was over a decade. The American 'noise' peaked in popularity a few years after this and then seemed to fade away, though I think this may be more a product of changing marketplaces (and my own interests shifting) rather than any sort of decline in output. Still, among all the hundreds of projects and bands that came to prominence in the following years, Hair Police somehow distinguished themselves against the rest, and with fresh ears and a spin of Obedience Cuts, it's easy to hear the reasons.

18 September 2016

Hair & Skin Trading Company - 'Psychedelische Musique' (Freek)

One of the great joys of this gradual and probably quixotic project to work through my vinyl accumulation in alphabetica order is the discovery of records that I didn't remember I owned, or didn't remember what they sounded like. Psychedelische Musique has been hiding here for years, spun only once or twice since I first purchased it, secondhand, back in 2001. 'An American comes to the UK to buy an American record?' said the shopowner with a sarcastic drawl (and you can guess which infamous shopowner it was, if I tell you said shop was located in Leicester) but I didn't let his intimidating aggressive nerdyness deter me - who gives a fuck where I'm from or where a record is from or where it's purchased? And anyway, this isn't an American record - both the band and the label are British, so I don't have any idea what the fuck he was going on about. It's strange I remember that exchange more than I remember the music. This was £8 well-spent, as I knew the moment I dropped the stylus and heard the ringing, pulsing electronic drones that open it (even if I subsequently forgot about them). This is pastiched together like a 90s version of The Faust Tapes, with a variety of, well, 'psychedelic music' techniques applied throughout. Side one has a long, slow spacious passage in the middle with some ominous clanging and echoing roomsound, like Labradford if they had an interest in backwards sounds. Other parts are thicker, and even with a bit of rock-hypnotism at play ('Tor' has lurching guitars, though not too high in the mix, and lazy-ass vocal intoning making it feel like a sketch, an Elephant 6 interstitial track gone rogue) and a generally dark (or at least uneasy) vibe throughout. Side two opens with a pounding heavy goth guitar jam, abruptly ending with a tape splice, as if they were suddenly channeling White Zombie but then changed their mind and left it on the record anyway as a joke. It feels a bit incongruous with the rest of the record, which assembles studio trickery, a post-This Heat soundworld, with the dark surrealism of Thunder Perfect Mind-era Nurse With Wound. There's not a lot of distinction between the organic and the electronic, and the swirling backwards sounds are well-applied. Maybe it's time to see what else they did or what they've done since.

11 August 2016

Charlie Haden - 'Liberation Music Orchestra' (Impulse!)

Maybe it's a safe pick, a consensus one for sure - when Mr. Haden passed two summers ago, most of the online obituaries referred specifically to this record as his masterwork, along with the early Ornette Coleman recordings, of course. I often cite this among my most treasured recordings in the entire 'jazz' sub-section of my vinyl accumulation, though (like fellow Impulse genre-bender The Black Saint and Sinner Lady by Mingus), 'jazz' isn't the right term to encapsulate all the ideas at play here. So much could go wrong here - a white guy working with predominantly black musicians (though arranged by a white lady), directly addressing political struggles during the same time that Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were radicalising their music. But Haden and Bley used the Spanish Civil War as their focal point, and somehow it gels in a way which survives the test of time and avoids musical-tourist trappings. Perhaps this was the Buena Vista Social Club of its day, but to me, there's a sense of adventure, and a unified feeling, a purity of vision, as well as a widening of musical possibilities. Bley's arrangements may be the secret ingredient but this is still driven by Haden's plucking -- bass is definitively the lead instrument here, and even on piano-driven segment such as 'War Prayers' or the choral elements, it clearly emanates out of his leadership. I found this record when an undergraduate, through Robert Wyatt's cover of 'Song for Che', and that song is still the most powerful to me - a warbling, fluid melody that spins around like a bead of water on glossy paper,  building through several dramatic peaks without giving in to melodrama. It's pure Haden for long stretches, and the melody (as dynamic as it is) stands up there with Ayler's 'Ghosts' for me as one of the most iconic compositions in so-called 'free' jazz. I don't mean to diminish the other players here: Gato's sax burns with its usual sizzling energy, not that it should be taken for granted; Don Cherry and Dewey Redman make this a proto-lineup of Old and New Dreams, where Coleman's vast shadow can be chucked aside.  Roswell Rudd is underrated here, as always, but trombonists are generally underrated, right? For all of the years I've spent exploring avant-garde/free jazz, the records I come back to the most are the ones which stand out against the skronky, blow-out-your-brains aesthetic so commonly associated with the genre. This record, the aforementioned Black Saint and Sinner Lady, Shepp's Blasé, Art Ensemble records, Escalator Over the Hill, Sun Ra's more doo-wop influenced pieces -- for someone who claims to love free jazz, my preferences are further away from the 'free' side of it, towards a little more compositional basis, or towards other genre-influences such as classical or folk. Liberation Music Orchestra is maybe as much about the idea, the image carried through by its cover - a ragtag-looking group of musicians united in an expression of solidarity for the underclasses, in a time when that still meant something, before the all-pervasive irony of postmodernism took over etcetera, etcetera. Of course, this ragtag bunch is made up of some of the most successful and well-respected musicians of their time, but that brick-wall cover photo still conveys something. It's like the free jazz version of the cover of the first Ramones album, maybe, but musically about as far away from that simplicity as possible. 

21 July 2016

Peter Gutteridge - 'Pure' (540)

And with this, we conclude the Gs. It's an oddball selection for the end of this underrated alphabetical segment, and an odd choice to have gotten a deluxe double-vinyl reissue. Originally released as a cassette on Xpressway way back in '89, the 540 label saw fit to give it a first-time vinyl pressing in 2013. I'm not complaining - Pure is a great collection of sketches, experiments and low-stakes hypnotica - but it feels a bit strange that during this wave of New Zealand greats getting issued in affordable (and more importantly, available) vinyl slices, that this was chosen. While other great material -- some would say 'greater' -- remains impossible to source (I'm thinking about Plagal fucking Grind, y'know). But I'm not trying to diminish Pure, in which the late Mr. Gutteridge steps away from the shadow of the Clean and the Great Unwashed and presents his own musical personality across 21 songs. I never listened to Snapper and I'm not so clear at picking out his own songwriting from the other voices in the Clean, but honestly, Pure offers little in the way of a singer-songwriter approach anyway. The majority of the tracks are instrumental, with thick, pulsing layers of electric guitar, organs, and shimmery keyboards. All the sounds come from the cheapo, Tall Dwarfs-esque approach, but the man extracted a wealth of diversity from the limited gear. The lo-fi recording helps and this feels almost odd to hear on vinyl (though welcome, thank you 540!). 'Planet Phrom' is the closest we get to the jangly feel of the Chills or Clean, as I expected from his background, and features Snapper's Christine Voice (whatta great name, eh?) helping with distant, echo-laden backing vocals. For the most part, the rest of the songs stay away from any twee, light sensation, the next closest being the lark of 'Having Fun', and the furthest away probably being the decidedly un-gentle 'Bomb' (where guest vocalist Bruce Mahalski intones a mostly-spoken vocal line over a casio beat with pulsing keyboards and a few theatrical glissandos). This isn't horror movie music or heavy metal or anything, but it's closer to the dour gloom I usually associate with the Xpressway label than one would expect from a musician of Gutteridge's lineage. Spread out over two LPs, Pure starts to feel like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by the thick instrumentals. If I were to reduce this to an 'X crossed with Y' analogy, I'd probably say it's like a cheap-ass Terry Riley meets Suicide vibe, which sounds pretty great, doesn't it? We're still filtering everything through the Flying Nun sunglasses of course, and maybe 540 was hoping that this would stand as the man's legacy rather than being a supporting player to the Kilgours or Martin Philips. I'm glad for it, and in some way it makes me think of the (equally underrated and obscure?) Jowe Head solo record, Pincer Movement, not so much in how it sounds but how it stands, in relation to the band which he is better known as a member of.

Guru Guru - 'Dance of the Flames' (Atlantic)

Guru Guru, on a wider release (and American major label) get back to business with the crunchy rock-riffage found on side one of the self-titled album. It's not a genre I'm super qualified to critique, but after typing this I realise how 'rockist' this vinyl accumulation is. I've always liked things on the cerebral side, but weirdly as I grow older the gut-punching guitar epics make more and more sense to me. It's like I'm aging in reverse, or maybe the few times I've read Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic sunk in, and I have a real appreciation/understanding of what makes a rock band great (and ignore all the homophobic stuff in there). So yeah, Guru Guru know how to shred and this for the most part resembles the first side of the previous record, not the spacey, sci-fi second. But things start opening up a bit on 'The Girl from Hirschorn', containing a long, long shredding guitar solo before a nice singing part comes in, the pieces slows to a gentle 60's psych vibe, and concludes. It's well-recorded too, sounding like a psychedelic rock record should, and maybe the two sides of Guru Guru find symbiosis here. 'Samba Das Rosas' is the album's other wildcard, being a genre exercise in samba, with the guitarist singing in a falsetto and a nice atmosphere - no one does samba like a bunch of Germans from Heidelberg!  'Rallulli' is the record's most collectively improvised feel, sounding like Dutch free jazz in the beginning before the almighty rhythm comes in, though it stays acoustic (including upright bass) and sneaks around without ever getting settled. On the rare times I listen to Guru Guru this is a record to skip around rather than play straight through - I prefer the previous record's second half for the focused listen and there's about 40 other albums I could investigate were I so inclined. This band still exists! And when one thinks about how a rock band can persevere for almost a half-century without major commercial success, it makes one see a sort of musical purity there, even if that's just a bit of hindsight and conjecture. Sometimes I like to pronounce the word 'guru' as guh-ROO, like if I'm describing some weird yoga instructor in a mocking way; and saying guh-ROO guh-ROO as a band name is almost as funny as saying "zed zed Top". If I were to rank my favourite rock bands Guru Guru are probably somewhere around 286th, or maybe lower, but that's still pretty high if you think about how many rock bands there are.

12 July 2016

Guru Guru (Brain)

For years I thought this was the first Guru Guru record, but the Internet tells me it's actually the fifth! For guys often lumped in with Kraut heavyweights, you wouldn't think it listening to side one, which is mostly balls-out biker rock. Any intellectual (or at least, progressive) tendencies present in Guru Guru are buried behind the riffs, operating here in power trio mode, and even doing an Eddie Cochran cover as well. I'm not so equipped to rate such things - at parts I feel like I could be listening to Steppenwolf - but when flipped over, this record becomes a winner. That's due to 'Der Elektrolurch', a snaking, funky exploration which starts around some jammy percussion before experimenting with heavily processed guitars and a scary sci-fi voice (though I think most voices sound scary in German). It's almost unrecognisable against the riffage on side one, and it's kosmiche musik at its best - progressive, dark, and invigorating. You could probably argue that it's a bit underwritten, sounding more like a few sketches put in linear fashion than an actual 'song', but that's OK. Closer 'The Story of Life' continues the atmosphere for 12 and a half minutes, and it takes it's time. It's a slow, meandering tune with a plodding bassline, built around the repeated tenor vocals about matters such as 'The story of life' / 'is hello and good-bye'. About 2/3 of the way through we get to some sort of bridge, suggesting we sleep 'until we meet again', and it drifts off to nothing among some gongs - before a distorted guitar comes back in and takes us home via a flying carpet of burning riffage. Guru Guru are second-tier Krautrock for me but this second side can stand up against the best moments by Dzyan or Cosmic Jokers, for sure.

4 July 2016

Guided by Voices - 'Sunfish Holy Breakfast' (Matador)

Even big record companies like Matador make mistakes sometimes. I'm referring to the label which incorrectly lists this as a 33 1/3 rpm release, which gets me every time, so trusting am I of printed materials. But that's the only mistake they made - this EP, really pulled together from odds and ends, has somehow snuck into my personal canon of GbV's greatest works. Maybe it's just a case of right-place/right-time; at this point, Pollard and company could really do no wrong. Two of these songs were previously released ('Stabbing a Star' & 'If We Wait') and both are great, but the latter is transcendent, and also among the most literally written of any Pollard song ever, lyrically. It's another inspirational tune, akin to 'Watch Me Jumpstart', except the collective pronoun 'we' turns this into a group exercise, and the musical progression follows the lyrics. A drunken friend once unlocked it; the first verse is drenched in self-doubt, the drums come in and rouse the narrator towards action, but then doubt returns and he falls back on his knees until ultimately deciding to rush out the door and seize the world. It's also funny that for as much as Pollard has enriched my life with his cryptic turns of phrase, here, where he lays it down honestly and directly, it's even more powerful. What else makes Sunfish Holy Breakfast great? It actually opens with a Sprout tune, and a wonderful one in 'Jabberstroker'. The two sound quite unified in 'Canteen Plums' and 'A Contest Featuring Human Beings'; it's a union that was never quite as solid as during this moment. Most of the songs on this record are build around thick, chugga chugga guitar chords, though it's a testament to the lightness of melody on 'Beekeeper Seeks Ruth' that the mix doesn't get bogged down despite it's limited frequence range and dominance of the bedroom six-string overtones. When you throw in a few ascending 'The FLYing party is HERE!' it can really lift a track up. The thick guitars are full-on during 'Cocksoldiers and Their Postwar Stubble', and no amount of Kim Deal production can save this from its title, one of the most masculine monikers ever composed -- but that's actually beneficial, a faux-meatheadedness. The slow, four-chord progression takes us through a relatively slow melody, and it finds its way into the cortex like the rest of 'em. It still makes me jump around my room and do air-drums along with the rolls (and the vacuum cleaner sound that's on Alien Lanes is also here - maybe it's a bong hit?). Closer 'Heavy Metal Country' is also done in a big studio, but instead of getting the big 'rock' treatment, it sounds like something from the 4AD label circa the late 80s. All the male rock here stuff, it's really just a pisstake, as is the sleeve art -- I think -- which a casual observer may get confused with that one No Neck Blues Band album. A shoutout as well to Jim Greer, who wrote 'Trendspotter Acrobat', which slots in perfectly among the rest. Maybe it's time to check out those DTCV albums.

Guided by Voices - 'Alien Lanes' (Matador)

I hit a bit of a lull in this blog, because I was suddenly struck by how pointless and/or difficult it is to write about Alien Lanes. I mean, this is another mammoth formative record in my life, a record I have beaten into my brain for twenty years now, and without ever wavering in my love for it. But the show must go on, so I'll try to formulate something here that is worth your time, a screed to justify the RSS bandwidth you may be reading this over. So, yeah, Alien Lanes. I'll say one thing -- it is a testament to the heralded 'lo-fi' recording techniques that this record sounds exactly the same every time I play it, even though the grooves have to be worn out more than anything else on my shelves, and also regardless of which type of sound-reproducin' equipment I play it on. Yes, ever since I snuck away from my high school's class visit to the College Faire (a trade show where various shitty local/ish institutions of higher learning set up tables and tried to talk us into applying to them) and purchased this, shrinkwrapped and new, I've been enthralled by its vision. This was supposed to be the start of GbV phase two (or three?), after Bee Thousand brought them notoriety, but really it's the penultimate gasp of their period of truest greatness. Alien Lanes is the perfect synthesis of everything they did, which includes wyrd folk-ish experiments ('They're Not Witches', 'Big Chief Chinese Restaurant'), perfect bubblegum ('Game of Pricks', 'My Valuable Hunting Knife'), 60s throwbacks ('As We Go Up We Go Down'), a few stunning Sprout songs ('A Good Flying Bird', 'Straw Dogs'), a few of Pollard's most iconic Pollard rock masterpieces ('Watch Me Jumpstart', 'Motor Away', 'My Son Cool'), some very fragmented-yet-rewarding sketches ('Gold Hick', 'Cigarette Tricks'), intentionally dumb rockers (surprising live favourite 'Pimple Zoo'), some rather experimental sci-fi songforms ('Auditorium', 'Hit') - as well as one of the greatest opening cuts ever ('A Salty Salute') and one of the most forgettable closers ('Alright'). And just before that, labeled as 'presumed throwaway', the stark, chilling 'Always Crush Me', which is almost showoffy - like bragging about the full extent of one's genius. And all the tracks I didn't mention, which are almost uniformly great and sound great when singing along to (let's name 'Blimps Go 90', 'King & Caroline', 'Closer You Are', 'Evil Speakers' because I like typing the titles almost as much as I like listening to them). And shitty album artwork that looks like it was done in Corel Draw (I bet it was, it was 1996 after all!). It's a complete package. One of my favourite memories is sitting around in a car, on tour with some friends' band, in 2005 I think, and listening to this while pantomiming hand motions to act out the lyrics. It was a brotherhood united by our love for this record and it's infinite mysteries, earworm-generating inspiration, and awe-inducing imagery. And it was fun to pretend to park a forklift, 'like a billion stars flickering from the grinder's wheel', though I don't remember the specific hand gesture to go with that one. Please play 'My Son Cool' at my funeral, and I wish they would have played 'Motor Away' at my birth. No, 'Watch Me Jumpstart'. Watch Me Continue to find inspiration twenty years into my lifetime bond with this masterpiece. Thanks.