New GBV book!

15 Aug


In case you somehow missed the news, my good friend Matthew Cutter has an exciting new book coming out called Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices. It’s out August 21st. I’ve had the privilege to read it already, so I can confirm that it is excellent; the definitive book on His Bobness.

More info, ordering links, etc. are found here:

Back to Saturn X (1990, alt. version)

19 Mar

I’ve already covered one version of Back to Saturn X, an album that was ready to be put into production before being shit-canned at the last minute. This recently unearthed sequence likely predates that version. The release of Suitcase 4 has filled in some vital gaps, so it’s time to give this album a listen!

The most unusual aspect of this sequence is the presence of a couple songs credited to Sprout-Toohey-Peterson, who comprised the band fig. 4. Despite not featuring a writing credit from Pollard, these songs were recorded entirely by GBV without the fig. 4 guys, with Pollard on lead vocals. Both tracks were unheard until being released on Suitcase 4.

There is also an unknown song, “Directions to the New Appliance,” which may have also been a Sprout composition (Tobin Sprout, who provided the details for this sequence to GBVDB, seemed unsure of this himself).

Here’s the list, including some alternate titles.

Back To Saturn X
1. My Big Day
2. Gurgling Spring Tiger
3. Damn Good Mr. Jam
4. 14 Cheerleader Coldfront
5. Melted Pat
6. Perch Warble
7. The Garden (Sprout, Toohey, Peterson)
8. Tractor Rape Chain (Clean It Up)
9. Fantasy Creeps
10. Lower Lords (AKA Our Value of Luxury)
11. Heartbeat (Sprout, Toohey, Peterson)
12. Directions To The New Appliance (Unavailable, possibly a Sprout song)
13. Dusty Bushworms
14. Soper Joe
15. Back to Saturn X

Note: There are multiple versions of many of these songs, so for my reconstruction I decided to go with full-band recordings as much as possible. For opening track “My Big Day,” I used the third version on Suitcase 1, which is listed as being recorded for Back to Saturn X.


The album kicks off with a trio of Suitcase 1 tracks. First up is the weird “My Big Day,” a song that has a kind of sinister swing to it. Makes for an interesting opener! It transitions nicely into the much more traditionally catchy, upbeat “Spring Tigers.” From there, it’s another nice segue into the great full-band take on “Damn Good Mr. Jam.” 

Next up is the GBV classic “14 Cheerleader Coldfront,” the only Propeller tune featured on the tracklist. It’s also the only song here to actually end up on a GBV album at all, with the rest of this batch mostly ending up on archival releases.  “14 Cheerleader” did not make the cut for the later Back to Saturn X sequence that was close to being released. 

Oh shit, now it’s “Melted Pat!” It’s always a joy to hear this delightfully weird, catchy tune. It sounds great going into “Perch Warble,” another insidious earworm delivered in the form of a melodic pop-rocker. Energy levels sufficiently raised, the band slams into “The Garden,” a Sprout-penned rocker which they attack with gusto despite it being on loan from another band.  “The Garden” may not be a classic but it’s a must-hear song for fans of GBV’s early, R.E.M. acolyte days.

The “Clean It Up” version of “Tractor Rape Chain” follows, and its drowsy psychedelia makes for a nice coda to the supercharged “The Garden.” Actually, I find this context is the best this song has ever sounded to me. It’s something else when that magical chorus hits (the only feature it shares with its Bee Thousand counterpart). 

“Fantasy Creeps” continues the psychedelic trend with its Beatles-esque chorus. It pairs off nicely with the jangly, lighters aloft ballad “Our Value of Luxury” (here known as “Lower Lords”). 

“Heartbeat” comes next, another storming rocker from Sprout. Why did Pollard and co. decide to record this and “The Garden,” only to cast them into obscurity until Suitcase 4?  We’ll probably never know, but shit yeah it’s cool to hear. 

The mystery track “Directions To The New Appliance” is next, sadly omitted here since it’s lost to the sands of time. Speculated to be another Sprout song, but it’s interesting to note the similarity of the title to the Pollardian phrase instructions to the rusty time machine, as bellowed on “Lethargy” (and at one point a working title to Bee Thousand).

But there’s no use on dwelling on what is most likely a minor omission, considering one of Pollard’s greatest songs kicks off the closing trio. “Dusty Bushworms” is such a beauty, you guys. I love the full-band take here from Suitcase 2, with Jim Pollard conjuring the strange chirping sounds (the bushworms?). Easter egg: The coda melody unique to this version was recycled in the Power of Suck outtake “Are You Faster?”

Back to Saturn X Radio Report classic “Sopor Joe” is slotted in the penultimate spot. I love this song (and even bizarrely shouted requests for it during my first GBV concert) but it’s a relatively minor cut on this particular LP, sandwiched between two superior tunes. Speaking of which, the title track closes things out on an excellently rousing note. It’s a fun singalong rocker that never got its due until it was dusted off as a live favorite in the 2000s and eventually released on the Hardcore UFOs boxset. It works great as an album closer and actually brings to mind the more recent GBV closing track “W/ Glass in Foot.”

This Back to Saturn X sequence is a fascinating snapshot of a transitional period in GBV’s early days, as Pollard inched closer to finding his artistic voice. Although they have only one song in common, Back to Saturn X is an important chapter in the history of Bob creating Propeller; they are ineffably connected. Historical significance aside, this is a cool, weird album that’s worth assembling! Do it!

You’ll need these releases to recreate this shitcanned album:

  • Suitcase 1
  • Suitcase 2
  • King Shit & the Golden Boys
  • Suitcase 4
  • Get Out of My Stations
  • Propeller
  • Darla 100 compilation
  • Delicious Pie & Thank You for Calling

Here’s my Spotify playlist. Unfortunately, the title track is not available. Also kinda weird is the opening track “My Big Day” is only available as a combined track with three versions. I’d say just skip to 3:20 for the full-band version that I think would open this album. Also, since the full-band version of “Tractor Rape Chain (Clean It Up)” is not available on Spotify, I used the demo version from Suitcase 4.

The Happy Sounds of the Crowd (1983)

16 Nov
The Happy Sounds of the Crowd
The Happy Sounds of the Crowd

The release of the fourth incredible installment of Suitcase has illuminated a previously un-mined chapter in Pollard’s musical development — A proto-GBV group called The Crowd, dating all the way back to 1983! The cassette that was unearthed contains an album’s worth of material, much of it unreleased in this embryonic form, but a handful of the songs here went on to serve as source material for tracks on later Pollard albums. Seven songs from this tape are on Suitcase 4, and one additional track was released as a Guided By Voices B-side in 2013.

So here’s what’s been released so far:

1. Murphy Had A Birthday (AKA Today You’re 82) (Parts recycled in “Birds” and “Take Me to Yolita“)
2. Eloise (recycled in “Wrinkled Ghost“)
3. Time Will Destroy You
4. Then Again (acoustic)
5. Linda’s Lottery (bit of melody here was borrowed for Keene Brothers’ “Island of Lost Lucys“)
6. Thick And Thin
7. Disappearing Act
8. Little Jimmy the Giant (b-side to Xeno Pariah)

Here’s what’s left:

1. Double Standards
2. Tell Me (also appears on Pissing in the Canal, later recycled as verse of “Tractor Rape Chain“)
3. Cardio-Combustion (melody that became “Hank’s Little Fingers“)
4. Hold Me
5. It’s a Matter of Time
6. Tamara
7. Magic Horses (early version of the still unreleased Power of Suck outtake “Sweeping Bones“)
8. Bom Bom
9. Wolves Among the Grave
10. I Won’t Be the Foolish One (mentioned in Beautiful Plastic as becoming “Gelatin Ice Cream Plum“)
11. Then Again (full band)

The eight tracks currently available showcase a band that has already mastered the art of writing songs, from a melodic standpoint. The arrangements are basic garage rock, but the structures are fussy and formal, with verses, choruses, and bridges, etc. in exactly the right places. In GBV’s typically off-kilter fashion, it wasn’t until Pollard unlearned some of the songwriting conventions on display here that he really found his artistic voice. But The Crowd material does not suffer for its youthful naivete — far from it. The band attack their songs with a punkish urgency that serves them well and sells the occasionally on-the-nose lyrics. The song structures may be fussy, but the live-sounding, no overdubs recordings certainly are not. Also of note is that the jangly, R.E.M. derived sound featured heavily on GBV’s early albums is mostly absent here in favor of power-pop/British invasion-inspired nuggets. 

“Murphy Had a Birthday” is the highlight for me, a relentlessly catchy song with a magnificent chorus. You might recognize part of the bridge (and a variation of its chorus) on English Little League‘s “Birds,” or the full bridge section on recent Pollard solo single “Take Me to Yolita” (from Faulty Superheroes), but the original track more than stands up on its own.

It’s also quite interesting to hear how the relentlessly energetic earworm of “Eloise” was re-written by an older, wiser Pollard to make one of my all-time favorite songs of his, the beautiful “Wrinkled Ghost” from Waved Out.

Would love to see the entirety of this Crowd session released as its own standalone LP! Based on what we have of it already, it’s a strong collection of tunes as well as an intriguing glimpse at a young songwriter learning his craft.

The Crowd featured Jimmy Davidson on guitar, Mitch Mitchell on bass, Kevin Fennell on drums, and Robert Pollard on vocals. Thanks to The Heed for providing the image and info on unreleased songs.

Hope to have some more Suitcase 4 inspired posts up soon!

The Flying Party is Here (version 2)*

3 Oct

*Don’t look for version 1 because I didn’t write about it (yet).

The Flying Party is Here is what came in-between The Power of Suck and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. There are a couple versions floating about, and apparently both were close enough for release that some promo tapes exist. Here’s a handy guide to help you keep this craziness straight… and the great thing about this version of the album is that an owner of an original tape copy has digitized it and made it available here.

The Flying Party is Here (version 2)
alt. titles in red, released titles in blue

  1. Fireball (Big Boring Wedding)
  2. Ex-Aviator (Why Did You Land)
  3. Unbeknown Meters (A Life in Finer Clothing)
  4. He’s the Uncle
  5. Deaf Ears
  6. The Official Ironman Rally Song
  7. Cocksoldiers (Sheetkickers)
  8. Systems Crash
  9. Post-Everlasting (Beneath a Festering Moon)
  10. June Salutes You
  11. Drag Days
  12. Bender’s Bluffing Muscles (unreleased)
  13. Delayed Reaction Brats
  14. It’s Like Soul Man
  15. The Key Losers
  16. Redmen and Their Wives
  17. Newton’s Hopeless Marriage (Take to the Sky)
  18. Don’t Stop Now
  19. Stingy Queens (The Ash Gray Proclamation)

Flying Party, much like Not in My Airforce, is a hodgepodge of studio-recorded tracks and some lo-fi home-recordings. The album hues slightly closer to the spirit of Alien Lanes than Under the Bushes does, thanks to short, punchy tunes like “Systems Crash,” “June Salutes You” and “Delayed Reaction Brats.” Power of Suck holdovers like “Redmen and Their Wives” and “Official Ironman Rally Song” supply a dose of melancholy beauty.

A big chunk of the album is made up of the songs that comprise the final six tracks of Under the Bushes. These are the songs that were released as a separate disc on the vinyl version, and unceremoniously tacked on to the end of the CD version. The story is, apparently, that Matador was so disappointed that these Flying Party tunes didn’t make the final cut on UTBUTS that they insisted on adding them to the album.

Most of the other songs ended up as b-sides or EP tracks, with only one remaining officially unreleased: the brief Tobin Sprout tune “Bender’s Bluffing Muscles.” “Beneath a Festering Moon” (which is a slowed-down version of “Pink Drink”) was released on a compilation, and “The Ash Gray Proclamation” ended up on Not in My Airforce.

Though it’s a very strong album (one of the best shit-canned albums, in my opinion), Under the Bushes still wins in terms of consistency, quality, and freshness. I imagine the leftover Power of Suck tracks seemed mighty stale at this point, especially to someone who had just written “Cut-out Witch” and “Underwater Explosions.” Though I would have shared Matador’s concern when he cut songs like “Drag Days” from the album, it’s understandable that Pollard decided to farm this batch of songs out to smaller releases and let his new stuff take center stage.

It’s interesting to consider how ill-suited Pollard was, even back then, to be beholden to a record label’s schedule of one album a year. Suddenly, GBV was a hot band, and Pollard is officially a full-time musician. As an artist, he’s constantly moving forward, pushing out new product to make room for something new. He had time to write and record a ton of songs, but couldn’t release it all in a timely fashion. Who knows what would have happened if he’d been able to self-release records at that point… maybe The Power of Suck, The Flying Party is Here, AND Under the Bushes would have all come out in some form, in the same year! But it just so happened that he had a long delay in which to endlessly tinker with the the follow-up to Alien Lanes, leaving behind a long trail of shit-canned goodness. 

Flying Party version #2 Track breakdown

Under the Bushes, Under the Stars
The Official Ironmen Rally Song
Don’t Stop Now

Under the Bushes bonus tracks
Big Boring Wedding
Drag Days
It’s Like Soul Man
Redmen and Their Wives
Take to the Sky

Plantations of Pale Pink
Systems Crash
A Life in Finer Clothing

Split with Superchunk
Delayed Reaction Brats
He’s the Uncle
Key Losers

The Official Ironmen Rally Song single
Deaf Ears
Why Did You Land?
June Salutes You

Beneath a Festering Moon

Not in My Airforce
The Ash Gray Proclamation

Bender’s Bluffing Muscles

Isolation Drills appendix: The Saga of Frostman

31 Jan

I had a lot of fun writing about Isolation Drills yesterday, and it got me thinking about the songs leftover from those sessions. In particular is a favorite of mine that could use some attention, and it’s sort of related to “Frostman.”

The simple lo-fi charm of “Frostman” makes it a stand out track on Isolation Drills. It’s one of Bob’s great sub-minute acoustic ditties, a lineage that also includes such gems as “Tropical Robots” and “Indian Fables.”

In 2008, an alternate version of “Frostman” was released as a b-side to Pollard’s “Miles Under the Skin” single. This recording, dubbed the “long version,” is presumably a demo that predates the album version. Here, the song is fleshed out with a second verse and signature riff in the form of an overdubbed lead guitar.

It’s that guitar riff that connects “Frostman” to another song. Released on Suitcase 2 in 2005, “Color Coat Drawing” is labeled as an Isolation Drills demo outtake. It seems that perhaps it never made it out of the demo stage, instead donating its riff and maybe some chords to the long version of “Frostman” that was subsequently shortened into the album track.

Whatever the case may, “Color Coat Drawing” is a breathtaking song, one of Bob’s sad-but-uplifting numbers.  While it does not have a melody as instantly appealing as “Frostman,” its slow, deliberate pace makes every chord change or melodic twist count. Totally engrossing. Bob’s delivery and the enigmatic lyrics make it surprisingly emotional. The chugging riff would sound right at home with the other Isolation Drills songs, but this spare demo has a undefinable hypnotic beauty to it that maybe would not translate to a full band arrangement — although I for one was hoping for a Boston Spaceships remake. But at the very least, I’m grateful to have this demo to listen to and ponder its place in Pollard’s canon. Another great tune that fell through the cracks.


I was going to place these songs earlier in the post, but didn’t want to detract from the main subject matter. Here they are:

Broadcaster House (Isolation Drills 1st Edition)

30 Jan

Isolation Drills is one of Pollard’s most consistent records, at least in terms of sound/style. It’s all HUGE, produced in such a way that ballads like “Fine to See You” and “How’s My Drinking?” sound as big and bombastic as rockers like “The Enemy” and “Skills Like This.” Even the pop songs like “Glad Girls” and “Chasing Heather Crazy” are crunchy and powerful. Only “Frostman” — a four-track recording — and the acoustic “Sister I Need Wine” offer something delicate and fairly low-key.

Due to Isolation Drill‘s sonic consistency, I didn’t expect this earlier draft, called Broadcaster House, to be a very different listen from the released album:

Broadcaster House

01. Skills Like This
02. Fair Touching
03. The Enemy
04. Glad Girls
05. Sister I Need Wine
06. Twilight Campfighter
07. How’s My Drinking?
08. Frostman
09. Unspirited
10. Chasing Heather Crazy
11. The Brides Have Hit Glass
12. Run Wild
13. Fine To See You
14. Privately
15. Pivotal Film

Wow, I was wrong! I thought that no matter the sequence, the album would flow about the same way. Not to mention that, there weren’t any non-album songs here to mix it up (only one missing, as “Want One?” is not here).

In fact, I found this sequence to have a distinct feel and flow. It was a fantastic listen that revitalized the album for me.

First of all, I don’t miss “Want One?” It’s a good song and I enjoy it (I even recorded a cover of it once), but the album is stronger with a slightly shorter running time, and “Want One” is the obvious choice to be cut. It would make a great b-side (and Isolation Drills yielded a lot of great b-sides).

I thought “Fair Touching” would be hard to top as an opening song, but “Skills Like This” shines in this spot. Something about that first riff and Pollard’s “ooooh” sets the tone perfectly and draws me in. And in turn, “Fair Touching” benefits in the way it storms out of the gate right behind “Skills,” picking up the tempo and kicking the album into gear.

In turn, the up-tempo pop of “Fair Touching” sets up the mid-tempo hard rocker ‘The Enemy” much better than I expected. “The Enemy” is a highlight of this set of songs, but is a bit buried on Isolation Drills, resting in that zone where a relatively long, sludgy song might not work as well. Putting it toward the beginning, sandwiched by two pop songs, is just a good idea.

The last half of Broadcaster House‘s side A slows things down a bit with a string of beautiful songs, “Sister I Need Wine” through “Frostman.”  In particular, I like having “How’s My Drinking?” pulled up from Isolation Drills‘ side B. It has a kind of slow-motion majesty that benefits surrounded by other melancholy laments. I love how the incredibly dense, layered sound of “Drinking” (featuring piano by Tobin Sprout and a great organ drone played by Elliot Smith) suddenly opens up into the clear, minimal acoustic plucking of “Frostman.” Those two songs would be an excellent way to close the first half, but I’m guessing that “Unspirited” was probably intended to close this side, as it does on the finalized album.

“Chasing Heather Crazy” kicks off side B with a surefire hit. It has basically swapped places with “Glad Girls” on this version of the album, and I might prefer it this way. That sunny opening riff is just the thing you need after that string of melancholy preceding it. Following “Heather” with another indelible pop song, “The Brides Have Hit Glass,” is a second case of sequencing that highlights the strengths of two similar songs by contrasting their differences.

“Run Wild” is up next. I think it’d be a hard song to fit on any album, maybe because it feels longer than its 3:48 running time. In any case, it sounds good here. Incidentally, it took a while for this song to grow on me, but I love it now. Great vocals on those soaring choruses!

“Run Wild” sets up the closing trio. “Fine to See You” always felt like the FINAL song on Isolation Drills, and sometimes I felt like it should have been. It does sound really good coming after “Run Wild,” and with two more tracks following it, it no longer has that sense of finality. Just a nice, late album ballad.

As of late, “Privately” has been my favorite song on the album. It’s one that never really got its due, only being played live ten times. It’s a good song to go out on, but I like the Broadcaster House method of following a more emotional, powerful song with a swaggering rocker. It’s a good trick (see Earthquake Glue or even Under the Bushes for a similar closing pair) and “Pivotal Film” sounds right at home as the final song on the album. Contrasts with the previous two nicely.

In conclusion, why do I always think of Isolation Drills being overly “sludgy?” Is it that thick guitar tone on many of the songs? Or is just because of the Do The Collapse-style riffage of “The Enemy” and “Run Wild?” Listening to Broadcaster House reminded me how classic this album is, and that there really isn’t a lot of sludge at all. Broadcaster House successfully re-contextualizes a handful of songs that, for at least, tend to fall through the cracks on the album proper, and some of my old favorite shine in a different light. Recommended!

Thinking Man’s Trip to the Zoo (2012)

9 Jan

Striking a perfect balance between weird and accessible, Mouseman Cloud (2012) is like a leaner version of Elephant Jokes (2009). It’s one of the my favorites, so I was happy to come across this earlier sequence with a couple of extra tunes. The extra tracks are outtakes that ended up on the flip-side to Guided by Voices’ White Flag single.

Thinking Man’s Trip To The Zoo
01. Obvious # 1
02. Casino Model
03. Picnic Drums
04. Dr. Time
05. Aspirin Moon
06. Bats Flew Up
07. Smacks of Euphoria
08. Mouseman Cloud
09. Lizard Ladder
10. Continue To Break
11. Zebra Film Negative
12. Human Zoo
13. I Was Silence
14. Mothers Milk And Magnets
15. No Tools
16. Science Magazine
17. Half-Strained
18. Zen Mother Hen
19. Chief Meteorologist

Here, I made a Spotify playlist: Thinking Man’s Trip to the Zoo

Apart from the two extra songs, this version of the album has only minor differences from the released version. The closing trio remains the same, as does song #1 (…obviously). The overall tone and feel of the album remains largely unchanged, but this is a nice way to hear those two non-album in the context of an album rather than isolated on a single. They don’t really sound like GBV tunes — despite being released under that name —  and fit in perfectly with the rest of the Mouseman songs.

Both the outtakes had prominent spots on Thinking Man’s Trip to the Zoo. The minute-long “Casino Model” works great as a segue between the first song and the much longer, heavier “Picnic Drums.” The 40-second “Zebra Film Negative” opens side 2 (assuming “Continue to Break” closes side 1 as it does on the released version) and leads into the equally short “Human Zoo” for a nice one-two shot of awesomely unique Pollard brilliance.

One possible advantage the Thinking Man sequence has over the official Mouseman is the separation of “Mother’s Milk and Magnets” from “Continue to Break.” Both are killer songs, but “Mother’s Milk” has been a divisive track due to its unrelenting repetition of the titular phrase. On Mouseman, it’s followed by the similarly structured “Continue to Break.” Together, those two songs highlight repetition and make it seem as if that quality is a recurring theme throughout the album. Separated, the “theme” of endlessly repeated choruses becomes much less prominent.

I love albums like this that are short, sweet, and cohesive despite being all over the place. Whatever version you listen to, “Science Magazine” is still a huge highlight. It’s a melancholy pop song that is sort of like a sequel to “I am a Scientist.” The heavy sea shanty “Zen Mother Hen” is excellently catchy, and “Chief Meteorologist” closes the album perfectly with a very From a Compound Eye-esque psychedelic chug.


Mouseman Cloud

Learning to Hunt (1988)

23 Oct

Learning to Hunt, an album that was mixed, mastered and ready to go into production before being cancelled, would have been Guided by Voices’ third album (it’s kind of funny for me to imagine a time when GBV had only three albums). Five of its tracks ultimately made it to Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, the rest mostly ended up on Suitcase 1 or King Shit and the Golden Boys.

1. Taco, Buffalo, Birddog And Jesus
2. Blue Gil
3. Slopes Of Big Ugly
4. Paper Girl
5. Turbo Boy
6. Soul Flyers
7. Let’s Go Vike
8. Dust Devil
9. Uncle Dave
10. Settlement Down
11. The Qualifying Remainder
12. Liar’s Tale
13. We’ve Got Airplanes
14. Short On Posters

As it stands, the band’s pre-Propeller albums are overshadowed by their more famous work from the 90s and onward. It makes sense, of course — Propeller is the album where the band’s own unique aesthetic solidified into something truly great — but I can’t help thinking of the minds that would have been blown to discover this completely unknown band from Ohio making records like Self-inflicted Aerial Nostalgia back in the 80s. Even the long-lost Learning to Hunt, left to gather dust in some Dayton schoolteacher’s closest for 20 years, is a remarkable work, charming for its flaws and mesmerizing for its strengths. Music that strives to escape its modest means, made by a band with talent, enthusiasm… and not much else.

Learning to Hunt is less darkly psychedelic than GBV’s first two albums, opening with the easy-going and whimsical “Taco, Buffalo, Birddog and Jesus” which immediately washes away the serious tone of their first couple of records. It’s not an overly silly or very playful record, but Learning to Hunt does seem more natural, like the band has dropped some of its previous affectations and is finally cutting loose. Pollard lets his his mid-western accent assert itself slightly, and there’s less post-punk/British invasion influence in favor of a more “classic rock” feel to some tracks (an influence that was mostly jettisoned for the more psych/post-punk Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia).

“Taco, Buffalo, Birddog and Jesus” was always a highlight on Suitcase 1, and it makes for a great opening song. The melody is irresistible, and it just has a welcoming feel. Even the spoken word bridge is catchy and cool. It’s long one, at almost 3.5 minutes, so it’s not as quick or punchy as many Pollard opening songs. It’s one of the better songs from this period to never make it to an album, although the recording sounds a bit muffled.

Track two is a treat as well. “Blue Gil” is so good that the Boston Spaceships dug it out for their 2008 tour. A slow, gorgeous verse gives way to a indelible, singalong chorus. Lots of atmosphere of this one. Has a tad more 60s to it than the previous tune.

Tracks two and three were carried over to Self-Inflicted: the weird slow-burner “Slopes of Big Ugly” (which sounds better in this context because there’s more contrast with the previous tunes) into the perfect acoustic pop of “Paper Girl.”

“Turbo Boy” really shows the classic rock influence — something to do with Greg Demos sneering guest vocals on the bridge. The song really takes off on the chorus, which was later re-used in the great Power of Suck anthem “Pantherz.” “Soul Flyers” has a nice soaring melody and an even more soaring guitar solo courtesy of Steve Wilbur, who’d also go on to play the legendary solo on Self-Inflicted‘s “An Earful o’ Wax.”

The first half closes with the catchy, jaunty “Let’s Go Vike,” and the second half dips into darker territory. Tracks 8 through 11 have a harder, weirder edge. I love the riffs that open “Dust Devil,” “Uncle Dave,” and “Settlement Down.” Each has a different character, but they work well together. “Uncle Dave,” probably the rarest track on this set (only released on a split single with the Grifters), is one of the better post-punk songs from this era.

The King Shit opener “We’ve Got Airplanes” is a great pop song in the penultimate slot, and the amazing “Short on Posters” closes the album on a memorable note — the shortest song on the album, and one of the catchiest.

Learning to Hunt reminds me of the kind of albums Boston Spaceships made. To me, most GBV albums have an overall unified feel to them, in both sound and songwriting. The Spaceships were much looser; they took more detours on their albums, exploring more facets of Pollard’s songwriting and experimenting more with styles and arrangements. The young incarnation of GBV, casting about for a style to call their own, created albums that have a similar effect.

Make it your own
Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia – Slopes of the Big Ugly, Paper Girl, The Qualifying Remainder, Liar’s Tale, Short on Posters
Suitcase 1 – Taco, Buffalo, Birddog, and Jesus, Blue Gil, Turbo Boy, Let’s Go Vike, Settlement Down
Suitcase 2 – Soul Flyers, Paper Girl (alt. version)
King Shit & the Golden Boys – Dust Devil, We’ve Got Airplanes
“Uncle Dave” – I’m not sure if you can buy this digitally anywhere, but I have the mp3!

Notes: You may want to try the full-band version of “Paper Girl” from Suitcase 2, though I prefer the harmonies on the acoustic album version.

LISTEN NOW (missing “Uncle Dave”) but find the mp3 above.

Mustard Man & Mother Monkey (Power of Suck pt. 2)

18 Jun

The next chapter in the Power of Suck saga is this big ol’ double-LP.

According to James Greer, this is an early version of Power of Suck, “after it was already not Power of Suck but before we’d started recording – this was during the rehearsal stage in Kim [Deal]’s basement.”

This would place it at around February 1995. The great thing about this sequence is that we have a complete handwritten tracklist with lyrics!

Seen at the top of the lyrics sheet is a list of possible titles. In my opinion, the Mustard Man one suits this sequence best, because I like it the best.

Mustard Man & Mother Monkey
Titles in bold are songs carried over from the original demos. Titles in red are newly added Pollard-Sprout co-writes.

1. Pantherz
2. Imperial Racehorsing
3. Color Of My Blade
(snippet) No title/Is She Ever?
4. Redmen And Their Wives 
5. Sheetkickers
6. Beekeeper Seeks Ruth

1. Drag Days
2. Cocksoldiers And Their Postwar Stubble
3. The Winter Cows
4. Bug House
5. Key Losers
6. Big Boring Wedding

1. Pink Drink
2. Pluto The Skate
3. Are You Faster?
4. He’s The Uncle
(snippet) No title/Drag Me Down
5. Universal Nurse Finger
6. I Am Decided

1. Not Good For The Mechanism
2. The Official Ironmen Rally Song
3. Why Did You Land?
4. I Saw The Jackrabbit (formerly “Superwhore”)
5. Don’t Stop Now

Most of the new songs added here are Sprout/Pollard compositions that later ended up on either Sunfish Holy Breakfast or Tonics and Twisted Chasers. It seems reasonable to surmise that other Sunfish and Tonics recordings were made during four-track sessions with Sprout around this time. Interestingly, there are no Pollard/Sprout co-writes on Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. At this point, there are no songs on the album solely credited to Sprout.

Looking at this sequence, the first striking thing is track two. “Imperial Racehorsing” is the name of a song on Let’s Go Eat the Factory, GBV’s first album of 2012. However, the Power of Suck song by that name appears to bear no relation to the newer song. In fact, this version is noted to be an instrumental on the lyrics sheet. It’s unknown what this song was, or if it was ever released under a different name. It has been confirmed by Greer that it is not “Do the Collapse” AKA “Girl from the Sun,” an instrumental written and recorded during the Albini sessions, which this tracklist predates.

The next unusual feature is the “Drag Me Down” snippet on side C. This is probably the future Tonics track “The Stir-Crazy Pornographer,” which prominently features the phrase “drag me down” in the lyrics. The earlier “Is She Ever?” snippet on side A is also a Tonics tune. I imagine these snippets would have been quite similar to the “At Odds With Dr. Genesis” snippet attached to “Ester’s Day” on Bee Thousand.

“Pluto the Skate” makes its final appearance on a potential GBV sequence before bizarrely showing up (in original demo form, even, although augmented by additional overdubs) in 2009 on Boston Spaceship’s Zero to 99In the meantime, its signature riff was recycled into “Catfood on the Earwig,” a song briefly in the running for Under the Bushes and later considered for Isolation Drills!

Looking at the lyrics sheet, one of the most interesting things is a previously unknown section in “Why Did You Land?” Some history: In 1993, “Why Did You Land?” was a slow, beautiful tune that was considered for Bee Thousand. After being passed over for that album, the song was reconfigured for The Power of Suck. The Suck version, also passed over for the album but eventually released as a b-side, is more of a rocker, and it has a chorus not present in the early version. This PoS lyrics sheet reveals that the chorus wasn’t the only new part added to the song. At this point in time there was also a bridge that does not appear in any released version:

Explain to me the big blue sea
Or the place where certain stars collapse
The singer’s song is always too long
Like everything we taught you
To all Tarzans of rock & industry Janes
The song has been written & yes perhaps
The lucky pimps shall have the best
& let imagination rock you
Why did you land?

Owner of the original PoS demo tape, RichT, has described it as a “killer middle part with a completely different melody.” He also stated that this demo version was for Suitcase 3, although sadly it did not appear on that release. As it stands, this is still an unheard piece of The Power of Suck puzzle.

The case of “Why Did You Land?” also illustrates how, like Bee Thousand, much of The Power of Suck was comprised of bits and pieces of older songs. Not only was the original “Why Did You Land?” a Bee Thousand leftover, but the “new” chorus (“look at the photograph / nothing is real” ) was taken from an even older song: “Perhaps We Were Swinging,” a folky tune recorded in the late 80s (found on Matador’s Hardcore UFOs boxset). “Don’t Stop Now” was also a Bee Thousand leftover (as was “Postal Blowfish” and Sprout’s “It’s Like Soul Man,” although those songs are not yet a part of this album).

Some more examples: “Are You Faster?” seems to take its verse melody from a bit at the end of the Suitcase 2 version of “Dusty Bushworms.” “I Am Decided” is based on an older song known as “Whiskey on Your Breath.” “Sheetkickers” is based an an old instrumental called “Lion w/ Thorn in Paw” (heard on Briefcase 2). “Pink Drink” is taken from a Propeller-era tune called “Song of Below,” the same song that spawned “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” “Pantherz” borrows from an 80s composition called “Turbo Boy.”

Of course, this technique is not at all unusual for Pollard, and many of his albums are peppered with instances of “recycling.” It just seems that we have more pieces than usual for this particular album. The songs from this era are rich with connections and discoveries to make.

Mustard Man & Mother Monkey is a great listen, one of my favorite shit-canned albums out there. The four-track recordings have the warm, welcoming sound of Bee Thousand, while the Albini tunes sound like a more muscular take on the Alien Lanes style. The songs only available in demo form (“Are You Faster?,” “Pink Drink”) have a unique and pleasing quality about them as well. Although a finalized version of the album would lack these unpolished demos, they don’t sound terribly out of place of my reconstructed version.

For my version, I stick to the released versions of tracks when available. The mysterious “Imperial Racehorsing” is the only glaring hole. The Albini versions of “Pantherz” and “Bughouse,” are somewhat harder to track down, being released only on the vinyl bootleg Jellyfish Reflector. Though, I think it’s the same version of “Bughouse” on Suitcase 1, but you might want to separate it from the demo version that precedes it on the same track. “Superwhore” was only ever officially released on Briefcase 2. You can download these three hard-to-find tracks here.

Whew! OK. In the next installment of the Power of Suck tale, most of these songs get cut, and a bunch of new songs are added. And it stops being The Power of Suck.

In the meantime, make your own Mustard Man:

Sunfish Holy Breakfast – Beekeeper Seeks Ruth, The Winter Cows, Cocksoldiers
Tonics & Twisted Chasers – Is She Ever?, The Key Losers, The Stir-Crazy Pornographer, Universal Nurse Finger
Suitcase 1 – Pink Drink, Pluto the Skate, Bughouse, Pantherz (demo version)
Suitcase 2 – I Am Decided, Are You Faster?,
Motor Away single – Color of My Blade
Tigerbomb – Not Good for the Mechanism
The Official Ironman Rally Song single – Why Did You Land?
He’s the Uncle available on Amazon MP3 or on Matador’s Hardcore UFOs box.
Under the Bushes, Under the Stars – Redmen and Their Wives, Sheetkickers, Drag Days, Big Boring Wedding, Don’t Stop Now, The Official Ironman Rally Song


30 Mar

Hey all,
I have not abandoned this project, just took a little break to focus on some other things and recharge. Got some good stuff in the works, including an interview with Chris from Boston Spaceships!