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4 July 2016

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.

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