Extended Roundup (More April Stuff)

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Because there aren’t any albums in this list I want to take the time to commit more than 300 words to.

Woods

City Sun Eater In The River Of Life

04/08/2016 on Woodsist Records

The veteran Brooklyn lo-fi folk group plays it safe on their latest album – entirely too safe.  Everything here sounds like Woods, even when it’s trying hard not to.

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Call It What It Is

04/08/2016 on Fantasy Records

Ben Harper’s first album with his Innocent Criminals backing band since the first Obama election is a solid return to form, a slick and professional amalgam of his styles:  funk, rock, soul, reggae, and old school R&B.

The Dandy Warhols

Distortland

04/08/2016 on Dine Alone Records

The poster children for diminishing returns approach the singularity.  Why even bother at this point?

The Lumineers

Cleopatra

04/08/2016 on Dualtone Records

The band doubles down on their folky Americana tracing, with a graver tone than the first time around.  The best that can be said is that at least they didn’t just go full-on Coldplay like a certain other indie-folk band of saps.

Royce Da 5’9″

Layers

04/15/2016 on Bad Half Entertainment

The veteran Detroit rapper isn’t gunning for radio singles or memorable street bangers here.  Instead, he leans on his top-notch lyrical skills to deliver a solid, message-driven album that also happens to feature some great hooks.

The Liminanas

Malamore

04/15/2016 on Because Records

The French psych-garage band combines a variety of European traditions – Italian giallo soundtracks, French ye-ye music, Spanish guitar melodies – with hard-hitting American psychedelic garage rock.  Features New Order bassist Peter Hook in an obvious cameo on one track.

The Coathangers

Nosebleed Weekend

04/15/2016 on Suicide Squeeze Records

Like Drew Storen, The Coathangers are a once-reliable outfit that has lost its velocity and therefore it’s meaning by 2016.  They try to develop some new tricks but, also like Storen, it remains to be seen whether they can pull that off in the long-run.

Kevin Morby

Singing Saw

04/15/2016 on Dead Oceans Records

The former Woods bassist puts out a lush album of moves cribbed from the Bob Dylan playbook.  Not exactly essential, but not a throwaway album either.

Suuns

Hold/Still

04/15/2016 on Secretly Canadian Records

A sort of lazy-eyed post-punk, like if Thom Yorke fronted an underground band.  There’s nothing here that reinvents the wheel or even improves upon an aspect of their influences, but it passes the time well enough.

Surgical Meth Machine

Surgical Meth Machine

04/15/2016 on Nuclear Blast Records

After putting Ministry to bed with a trio of albums that all said the same thing (“George W Bush sucks”), Al Jourgenson returns in 2016 with a project that blends industrial oblivion with the blurred effect of speed metal.  It doesn’t have the hard-hitting punch of his Ministry days but it’s funnier than anything he’s done in years, and the latter half of the album has more hooks than a bait shop.

Sam Beam

Love Letter For Fire

04/15/2016 on Sub Pop Records

The Iron & Wine frontman teams up with Jesca Hoop to put together an album of rich country-tinged folk ballads that I can’t remember a blessed thing about as soon as they’re over.

Kowton

Utility

04/15/2016 on Livity Sound Recordings

When it comes to electronic music meant to get you moving, Utility is competent.  That’s not really a compliment but it’s not altogether denigrating either.  You could do worse.

Susanna

Triangle

04/22/2016 on Susannasonata Records

An effective blend of the baroque majesty of Joanna Newsom and the cutting-edge mystique of St. Vincent.  It would be a much better album if it wasn’t so overly long.

Dalek

Asphalt For Eden

04/22/2016 on Profound Lore Records

Dense, thick, and lo-fi, the hip-hop group’s first album in six years (with new members) hits all of the right notes from their previous, critically acclaimed efforts.  Noisy without being willfully so, and brief without being truncated.

 

Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 2

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Special Friday Edition!

Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music.  Ha.  Ha ha.  Well, they try, that’s the important thing.

If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist:  I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is.  In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right.  Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above:  it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.

Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.

Anyway…

June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”

Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton.  Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before.  In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.

A

#2:  Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”

Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song.  Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set.  Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.

B+

#3:  Beck – “Wow”

Ah, the new Beck track.  The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album.  Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness.  Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion.  Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.

B

#4:  The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”

The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead.  My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick.  Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.

C

#5:  A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”

Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names?  Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging?  Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth?  Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?

Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.

F

#6:  The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”

Okay, show of hands.  Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback?  Anyone?  Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ.  Wait, this is actually sort of good.  I…I kind of like this.  Noel Gallagher co-wrote it?  I suppose that explains some things.

B+

#7:  Portugal.  The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”

Who gave the indie kids access to the internet?  They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great.  It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act.  You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up.  Good work, Reddit.

C+

#8:  Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”

The rest of the post title literally reads:  “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.

Who are you trying to fool, anyway?  We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.

Decent tune though.

B

#9:  Link Wray – “Rumble”

Link Wray  poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino.  At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .

B+

#10:  Joywave – “Nice House”

Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden.  The outro is rather nice though.

C+

TODAY’S AVERAGE:  B- (Not bad, Reddit!)

 

Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 1

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And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.

It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music.  Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here.  Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.

Or is it?  I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes.  Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.

Without further ado, I give to you:

June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Rancid – “Ruby Soho”

The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs.  /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.

 D+

#2:  The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”

The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar?  You win this time Reddit.  You win this time.

A+

#3:  Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”

I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok.  This isn’t completely dildos.

B+

#4:  Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”

The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”.  At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”.  In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite.  Thank you, Jesus.

C+

#5:  The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”

Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers.  It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less.  Also, those fucking spikes.  Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right?  How punk rock of you.

C-

#6:  Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”

Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic.  What the hell is wrong with you?

F

#7:  Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”

Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit.  Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you.  Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.

D

#8:  Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”

GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average.  Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those.  For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.

A-

#9:  Men At Work – “Down Under”

Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia.  I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs.  Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through?  Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses?  Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work?  At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.

C-

#10:  The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”

Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.

B+

TODAY’S AVERAGE:  C+

Helen – The Original Faces

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Helen – The Original Faces

Another autumn arrives (almost) and so comes another album from Liz Harris.  Instead of another Grouper album, however, Ms. Harris has put together a dream-pop outfit called Helen that approximates the sounds of the early Nineties, when wobbly tape noises, ultra-lo-fi recording, and thick fogs of reverb were par for the course.  A lot of that is, of course, stuff that Liz Harris uses seemingly every day, but the difference here is obvious.  Grouper is a project that approximates folk, except drowned in dread and isolated tape artifacts.  Helen is a pop group at its core, albeit one that sounds as though it was recorded live in an intimate club in the late 1980s and then left out in the rain for the past 25 years.  A track like “Felt This Way” sounds like what would happen if your house caught fire and your copies of Darklands and Heaven Or Las Vegas melted into each other but were still listenable.  These are, despite all of their accouterments, skeletal songs; the bass pokes through the holes in the sonics in a way that will make any aficionado of raw garage-recorded rock ‘n’ roll sit up and clap.  The gain used on the guitar amps is something rather unusual for Harris, but the way that the distortion is scattered to the winds and made to suffuse the whole song – as on “Pass Me By” – is quite warm and familiar.  Where the album really comes together is on “Dying All The Time”, where Harris and Co. up the racket to a near-punk fury by way of a drum line that carries all of the diffused distortion and thumping bass to an entirely different world.

If you miss noisy dream pop from the days when you were still buying it on cassette, do yourself a favour and track down a cassette copy of The Original Faces.

Wavves & Cloud Nothings – No Life For Me

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Wavves & Cloud Nothings – No Life For Me

Wavves’ Nathan Willaims used to make the oddest sort of punk rock back in the weird old days of 2008.  It was briefly fashionable at the time to write poppy punk songs but to record them so loudly that they clipped, producing a heavy distortion over every sound in the recording.  Songs like “Teenage Super Party” and “Beach Goth” and “California Goth” were strangely catchy; underneath the thick, nearly unlistenable layer of distortion were genuine Weezer-indebted songs of being young and lusty and enamoured with the beach.  Later, he would record these kinds of songs without the clipping, and would garner a significant indie rock following.

Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings first put his name to digital wax producing bored jaded suburbanite songs that were recorded in an almost ambient fashion, garnished with tape hiss and tailored distinctly lo-fi.  Since then he’s struck out in his own direction, writing some of the most bleak and emotionally powerful punk rock of the 2010s.  Given Williams’ regrettable tendencies towards Weezer-esque crunch pomp (most notably on 2013’s Afraid Of Heights), Baldi seems like the perfect foil for his songwriting.  No Life For Me bears this out to a remarkable extent.  The best moments, as on “How’s It Gonna Go” and the chorus of “Hard To Find”, involve both Baldi’s tactic of launching out into full head-on abandon and Williams’ easy-going but somewhat eerie ear for melody.  There are no real mediocre moments on No Life For Me, but there isn’t much room for them, either; the album gets in and out in 21 minutes, feeling like a split EP more than anything else.

Nathan Williams has spent his career post-2008 slowly working up to writing schlock like “Beverley Hills”, but on No Life For Me Dylan Baldi steps in and brings him back to his hissy, jaded roots, and both of them sound better for it.

NOW FEATURED ON SEROWORD.COM

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

I’ve been waffling on what to say about this album.  I finally got a full review hacked out yesterday, but I’m ditching it.  It’s stilted, awkward, and reads like a “music review”, the kind you find in people’s zines or on some kid’s blog.  So here we go, we’re just going to wing it today instead.

The things I like about Ivy Tripp are hard to articulate.  They’re more sense impressions than anything else.  When I listen to it I feel like I’m standing in a copse of trees, staring out into the line of trunks, smelling the acrid scent of burning wood, and wondering what the hell to do next.  The leaves under my feet are dry, and give a satisfying crunch when I walk on them.  The air is cold and smells like autumn dying, like winter trashing around in the womb, getting ready to be born.  The fire nearby is crackling, throwing off heat in an all-too-small radius.  Inside this circle of trees and the smaller circle of fire-warmth I’m safe.  Outside, the world blurs by in increasingly unrecognizable ways.  Outside there are no careers, just an endless parade of jobs and contracts.  There are no houses, because they’ve been neatly priced out of our reach.  There is no direction to go in, because all directions are equally shiftless.  Outside is a desert stretching in all directions, and the footsteps that lead away fade out after a time into nothing.

Inside, though, there is light, and warmth, for now.  There is sadness, more of a heaviness than a bleakness, and there is uncertainty, but there is also beauty, and sweet wistful longing.

Actually, there might be a bit too much sadness.  I fell for Katie Crutchfield on Cerulean Salt, mainly because of a shared adoration of crunchy, lo-fi 90s indie rock – your Pavement, your GBV, your Built To Spill.  Ivy Tripp shows off a love of another peculiarly 90s kind of rock – the slowcore sounds of Low, Codeine, and Slowdive.  This is admirable as well, but it makes the album drag out just a bit too long.

Nyoooo Myoooooosic: Sufjan Stevens

Video

“No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross”

As quiet and contemplative as The Age of Adz wasn’t, this first offering from Carrie & Lowell points back to the folkier offerings from Seven Swans, albeit with maybe less overtly Christian themes (the title says one thing, but the lived-in gutter philosophizing says another).

Carrie & Lowell is out March 31st on Asthmatic Kitty Records.

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 4 (2012-2014)

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Let’s Go Eat The Factory (2012)

In 2010, Matador Records threw a 21st birthday party for itself in Las Vegas, and it was topped off by a reunion of the classic GBV lineup (the 1992-1996 incarnation, when the real magic occurred).  This was followed by recording sessions and, on New Years Day 2012, a new GBV album.  Like the albums they’d originally done, they recorded on home equipment in garages, living rooms, and basements, and it seems to have given them the impetus to just relax.  While it’s not quite on the level of, say, *Propeller* or *Bee Thousand*, it’s much better than anything made from 1997 onward.  It showed that the band wasn’t quite done yet, although that would of course prove to be something of an understatement.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=975Ml2_Klpk] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn8z7k-Qqk0] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6_YAtr0x48]

Class Clown Spots A UFO (2012)

Six months after *Let’s Go Eat The Factory* the band returned with another sprawling album that sounded like a *slightly* less inspired version of the original lineup’s glory days.  Gone were the professional, solid, unexceptional albums of the early 2000s; the band brought back the quick bursts of British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll, the quirky lo-fi recording quality, and the weird song-sketch collages that interspersed their best work.  The off-kilter moments are still there, of course, but the good moments are brilliant, and numerous.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVF_q1ZbU-4] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh72hROAzFw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiyqCbOSv0w]

The Bears For Lunch (2012)

Then came the *third* reunion album in 12 months, and it became obvious that the band was literally incapable of not writing songs.  *The Bears For Lunch* is arguably the best of the three 2012 albums, although it’s not by much.  The style is the same, though; classic early Who and Kinks type songs filtered through a stormy night when radio signals bounce all over the ionosphere and snatches of great old pop songs can be heard fitfully and from far off.  The hit percentage is, as the others, not as high as it was in the mid-1990s, but it’s close.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvaHuls6p7c] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Hn0_uFEa5E] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_m1YmrOxv4]

English Little League (2013)

The band’s fourth album in the space of a year finds the third era of Guided By Voices beginning to run out of steam a bit.  When they’re on, they’re **on** (especially on Tobin Sprout’s songs), but when they’re off they seem muddled and distant, like a lover who’s beginning to tire of you.  Time will tell if the relationship will begin to sour, but if it does, this will mark the point where you can look back, broken and alone in a rented efficiency with hotdogs thawing in the sink, and say that it all began here.  The hit-to-miss ratio, always pretty high on even mediocre GBV releases, slips a bit here; it is proof, perhaps, that even a band as fiendishly prolific as Guided By Voices can eventually wind itself down.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79mXK2oFSMc] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA9W3l11IOM] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amB9S8Z9HY8]

Motivational Jumpsuit (2014)

And just like that the pendulum swings back and the band seems on fire once again.  After taking a (relative) break through 2013 the band released *Motivational Jumpsuit* and proved their continued vitality.  If the four albums of 2012-2013 sound like they could be cherry-picked to produced one really stellar album, *Motivational Jumpsuit* sounds like that album.  20 tracks in 40 minutes seems as breezy and concise as it did in the days of *Bee Thousand*, and while the quality is, again, not quite up to the standards of those hoary old days, it’s closer than it’s been at any point during the post-reunion period.  The rockers are chunky, with fat, bottom-scraping guitars playing off of drums that actually sound well produced despite the lo-fi recording.  The ballads are the best part of the album, especially on the joyous singalong of “Some Things Are Big (And Some Things Are Small)” or “Jupiter Spin”, on which the band reprises its love of appropriating Beatles melodies and takes a new look at “Tomorrow Never Knows.”.  It’s a solid album that points the way forward for another busy year of prolific songwriting, and remains as yet another indication of the inhuman creativity of Pollard and Co.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-MioyVHn-8] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDfI59euLQg] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oJp6rH798A] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_kIvD2BStU]

 

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 3 (1997-2004)

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File:Mag Earwhig!.jpg

Mag Earwhig! (1997)

Following the demise of the Tobin Sprout era, Pollard hooked up with Cleveland rockers Cobra Verde and recruited them to be his new version of Guided By Voices.  The album is perhaps the most consistently focused album of the post-Scat era; it’s a direct continuation of *Under The Bushes Under The Stars*, with even higher production values.  The songs seem more like the songs of a regular band, only written by a guy that can’t seem to take two steps without writing a pair of knockout pop songs.  The professionalism can be off-putting to fans of the wild, anything-goes era, but those used to mainstream rock will find a lot to love on this one.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV1fPyh53Ik] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ayd-MIyKerw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrn_8JmBJWo] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5cNgnHUevU] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWje0GJmU8I]

Do The Collapse (1999)

The band’s major label debut (on TVT Records), produced by Ric Ocasek (of The Cars), and honestly not all that remarkable.  Often pointed to as a weak link in the band’s discography, the pressure of being signed to a major label after having spent so many years poor and recording through basement walls seems to have pushed Pollard into writing a really bland group of songs.  There are really only a couple of standouts and the rest can be discarded at will.  Interestingly, both standouts were used in pop culture:  the stellar, misleading lead-off track “Teenage FBI” was used in *Buffy The Vampire Slayer* and super-ballad “Hold On Hope” was used memorably in an episode of *Scrubs*.  At the same time, their live show, a ramshackle affair involving a **LOT** of drinking, kicked into epic mode, with sets often going over the three-hour mark.  Anyone who grew up on modern rock radio will find *something* to like about the album, but in my humble opinion it pales in comparison to what came before or (to a lesser extent) what would come after.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bg6iVqMLOQ] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY2lSSmKBNk]

Isolation Drills (2001)

A bit of a return to form after the relative snooze-fest of *Do The Collapse*, *Isolation Drills* contains some of the best tracks of the post-*Under The Bushes Under The Stars* era, and puts back the muscle and heft that Ric Ocasek’s glossy production sacrificed.  There’s a lot of love for the Seventies here; while Pollard’s songwriting will always remain anchored in the British Invasion, there’s a sense on *Isolation Drills* that the band set out to make the best Cheap Trick album ever recorded.  In this, they succeed:  the songs sound ready for the arena at first blush, and the fact that radio didn’t immediately pick up on the universal accessibility of the album just goes to show the problems with terrestrial radio right from the beginning of the internet age.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV4b9SNZkU4] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGwThqr472s] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7KiLRCxt58] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZsi9uEOJLg]

Universal Truths And Cycles (2002)

Back to Matador they went, and even though they went from a major to an indie they managed to do better, chart-wise, than anything that came before (relax, it was only #160).  It’s a bit tighter than *Isolation Drills*, and the reduction in recording budget actually seems to bring a bit of the old wild Pollard out to play in places.  The magical moments seem a bit forced at times, but it’s a good album – not essential like *Bee Thousand*, or as lifeless as *Do The Collapse*, but it lands somewhere in the middle of their discography.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNuTvWO3rKI] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw273CvvG5o] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wyJXZJDTm4]

Earthquake Glue (2003)

*Earthquake Glue* was an album that showed a band on a real upswing.  Their previous two albums had shown a willingness to be consistently good, if not great; they were albums you could listen to all the way through a couple of times, and then skip to the good parts thereafter.  *Earthquake Glue* recaptures a bit of that old magic, though, from the 4-track garage recording days; there is a light, mellow groove that permeates the album like a particularly good bag of weed.  It’s still not as consistent as anything from the lo-fi era, but it can be considered as being perhaps the most solidly satisfying of the second part of the band’s career.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NaiQYgaSSw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl1965lkmTA] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJdiBIruHUc]

Half Smiles Of The Decomposed (2004)

This was supposed to be the last album – they announced in April of 2004 that it would be, and for a while it was.  It sounds like an attempt at crafting something a bit more wide-screen than anything they’d done before, like an album composed of the last songs of the night at their panoramic live shows.  In this it really only half-succeeds; many of the songs, even though they fall into the usual two-and-a-half minute mould, seem as though they are wearing out their welcome by the end.  It seems a bit tired, more than anything else, and Pollard was more than happy to spend the next several years following his muse through a series of typically ramshackle solo projects and albums with his sometime band Boston Spaceships.  For all intents and purposes, Guided By Voices was put to bed for good.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MTzCxFlT8g] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oahhlvwZKk]

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 2 (1992-1996)

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Propeller (1992)

This was supposed to be the last album.  Having spent five years playing to handfuls of people, selling albums in the hundreds, and getting into debt, they released *Propeller* in a pressing run of 500 copies, each of which bore a unique cover hand-crafted by the band, their friends, and family members.  These albums would circulate and gain the band a larger following, which would snowball in each subsequent year from then on.  *Propeller* is the beginning of a stellar period of extremely fertile creativity for what is considered the band’s classic lineup, featuring the band’s only other real songwriter, Tobin Sprout.  It’s the first album to really exemplify the “GBV sound”, which combined basement recording with tight, heavy guitar work juxtaposed with lighter-than-air songcraft.  The initial “GBV! GBV!” crowd chant at the beginning (fake, of course – the band had never played in front of that many people) would be replicated at every show thereafter, and the sledgehammer that many of the songs wield make it feel like the biggest arena show you’ve ever heard through the living room wall.

Standouts:

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Vampire On Titus (1993)

A very abrasive album recorded after Pollard decided to keep going with GBV but before he re-solidified the classic lineup.  It’s a notoriously noisy album that will prove to be a difficult listen for casual fans, but it’s fuzzed-up, blissed-out tracks will yield their secrets for the patient.  “”Wished I Was A Giant”” sounds like a bootleg of the greatest arena performance ever recorded from the roof of the stadium.  “Marchers In Orange” proves that there’s melody even in the midst of layered tape hiss.  Not their most accessible album (maybe their least accessible, in fact) but fascinating nonetheless.

Standouts:

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Bee Thousand (1994)

This was supposed to be the last album.  After catching some interest with *Propeller* and *Vampire On Titus*, the band was still in debt and Pollard was facing demands to focus on his family and his teaching career.  The band threw together *Bee Thousand* in a very informal, very spur-of-the-moment fashion.  The album caught the ear of the thriving indie rock underground and word of the band spread.  They began receiving notice in large publications and people actually began to show up to their shows.  As a result, Matador Records (who had handled the distribution of *Bee Thousand* through the small Scat label) offered to sign them and they became critical darlings.  *Bee Thousand* is one of the most well-regarded albums of the last thirty years and regularly makes the cut when it comes to the listing games music critics like to play.  The secret is of course in the songwriting; the album feels like a cut-and-paste collage of the best moments of what Pollard calls the “four Ps of rock”:  Pop, punk, progressive, and psychedelic.  In the vein of that last genre, the album is absolutely chock-full of strange, noisy moments; during the recoring, the band members used tape manipulation, edits, and noise effects as instrumentation, resulting in what often seems like the aural equivalent of DaVinci’s sketchbook.

Standouts:

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Alien Lanes (1995)

Their first album for Matador was a continuation of the style they had really hammered out on *Bee Thousand*:  short, sweet bursts of songwriting gold with a ridiculously high percentage of catchy winners.  The percentage is perhaps not as high as *Bee Thousand*, but *Alien Lanes* also out-numbers the previous album, 28 tracks to 20.  The seconds-long sketch-tracks can be a bit useless at times (especially “Gold Hick”) but they do provide valuable contrast to the longer tracks, making the album feel like you’re flipping through a particulary fertile stretch of radio dial.

Standouts:

Under The Bushes Under The Stars (1996)

For their ninth album, the band decided to go the professional route again, something they hadn’t attempted in a decade.  They recorded a number of sessions on 24-track, and enlisted several producers, including Pixies bassist Kim Deal and noise-auteur Steve Albini.  The result is an album studded with solid nuggets of pure pop framed in punchy rock ‘n’ roll.  The art-collage sensibility is largely done away with, in favour of well-executed songs that, in a just world,  would have been hits on rock radio. As it was, it would be the last album the classic lineup would record for sixteen years.  Tobin Sprout left the band to puruse being a father, and the rest of the regular players drifted away.

Standouts: