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When I Go North (1998)

16 Feb

So here’s another alternate look at Do the Collapse. I assume this tracklist is earlier in the album’s development than Human Amusements, so I’ve built this playlist almost entirely out of demos. Lo-fi!

1. Zoo Pie
2. Underground Initiations
3. Dragons Awake!
4. Surgical Focus
5. Shrine To The Dynamic Years (Athens Time Change Riots)
6. Strumpet Eye
7. The Kissing Life
8. Powerblessings
9. Fly Into Ashes
10. James Riot
11. Trashed Aircraft
12. Things I Will Keep
13. When I Go North (aka Vibrations in the Woods)
14. An Unmarketed Product
15. Wormhole
16. Pick Seeds From My Skull
17. Picture Me Big Time
18. Teenage FBI
19. Catfood On The Earwig

As I mentioned, all the DTC songs on this list can be swapped with demo versions. Although I believe these demos were recorded at Cro Magnon studio, the bootlegged copies sound pretty rough.  The shoddy sound and lack of long songs give this set a kind of Alien Lanes feel, like a glimpse into an alternate reality where GBV decided to return to the basement after Mag Earwhig. So, although one could also swap in the album versions of most of these songs, I recommend the lo-fi route. It also helps the three Suitcase tracks blend in, since they’re from the same demo sessions.

In addition to the DTC tracks, there are four tracks from Suitcase and three from solo albums Kid Marine and Waved Out. Lastly, the album ends with “Catfood on the Earwig,” originally from Plantations of Pale Pink — Pollard mentioned around this time that they were going to record a new version of it, but that never materialized. Instead, I’ve swapped in a nice live version from the bootleg King’s Ransom.

“Zoo Pie” makes for an odd, interesting opener. The demo version lacks the distorted vocal effect of the album version, so it feels a little lighter, while still retaining the song’s essential grittiness. The awesomeness of the drums stands out a little more too. This isn’t always the case, but for me the demo sells the song a little better. A faster version of “Underground Initiations” is a nice, energetic track two, and a spirited lo-fi take of “Dragons Awake!” rounds out the opening trio. Unlike the album version, it features drums and bass throughout the entire song.

“Surgical Focus,” the album’s “Smothered in Hugs,” comes next. The demo version offers no major change, and it leads nicely into the non-album “Shrine to the Dynamic Years.” “Shrine” is an odd, angular song that matches the gritty prog tendencies of Do the Collapse with a more energetic, dynamic arrangement. Though the bludgeoning chorus dominates the song, the real highlight is the verse, which feature a nice build-up. Sludgy without being turgid, this song would have sounded GREAT given the big production of the album. It kicks “Optical Hopscotch” to the curb.

The transition from “Shrine” to “Strumpet Eye” is another good one. The demo “Strumpet Eye” opens at full-blast with a brief guitar solo — a vast improvement over the album version, which has a subdued opening verse and feels less rollicking overall. Next is another non-album gem from Suitcase, “The Kissing Life.” It’s a wonderful song with an appealing two-note riff and great vocal melody, culminating in a haunting, triumphant “la la, la LA!” One of the most “classic” sounding songs from this era — it would have fit nicely on Under the Bushes, Under the Stars — I guess it just came along at the wrong time. I doubt Ocasek’s production would have done it any favors, and though it sounds great in this sequence, it doesn’t fit the tone of the final album.

“Powerblessings” is next, the demo version possessing a particularly striking beauty, leading into another favorite of mine, “Fly Into Ashes” (from the Hold on Hope EP). Finishing off this quartet of great non-album songs is the hard-rocker with a soft melodic core “James Riot.” A powerful song hampered by a muddy recording, “James” was made for Ocasek’s production, but apparently Ocasek didn’t dig it. Another loss for Do the Collapse.

Future Boston Spaceships track “Trashed Aircraft” makes an appearance after “James.” There are two pretty similar demo versions of this to choose from, on Suitcase and Delicious Pie & Thank You for Calling.

The back half of this sequence is centered around the hit singles “Things I Will Keep” and “Teenage FBI” and scattered with some minute-long songs (“An Unmarketed Product” and the two from Waved Out). “Picture Me Big Time” is a full minute shorter in demo form, which helps keep it from dragging. “Wormhole” is another song that works better with a lighter touch, and I like the riff during the verse that echoes the vocal melody, not present in the album version.

Finally, the live version of “Catfood on the Earwig” is quite  a different beast than the noise-drenched, drumless EP version. It rocks, and the vocal isn’t buried. I can see how it’d fit well with the TVT era tunes, so it’s too bad there’s no studio version of this arrangement (that we know of).

When I Go North is a rewarding alternate history GBV album, and could even be a gateway into a better appreciation of Do the Collapse. This era has a lot of potential for making your own mix of personal favorites. Just look at all the Do the Collapse/Hold on Hope songs NOT on this sequence:

Hold On Hope
In Stitches
Optical Hopscotch
Mushroom Art
Much Better Mr. Buckles
Liquid Indian
Wrecking Now
Interest Position
Tropical Robots
A Crick Uphill
Idiot Princess
Avalanche Aminos
Do The Collapse

+ other B-Sides
Sucker of Pistol City (which is actually a classic line-up recording!)
Perfect This Time 

Incidentally, there are also a couple more DTC demos on the Hardcore UFOs boxset:
I Invented the Moonwalk (and the Pencil Sharpener), AKA Whiskey Ships
Various Vaults of Convenience

Whew! OK, so I definitely recommend tracking down the DTC demos and giving the lo-fi When I Go North a shot. They are all over Soulseek. You can also hear most of them on this Grooveshark page (maybe one can make a playlist?).

Martketed Products
Do the Collapse
Hold on Hope
The Kissing Life, Shrine to the Dynamic Years, James Riot and Trashed Aircraft on Suitcase.
Boston Spaceships version of Trashed Aircraft on Zero to 99.
Catfood on the Earwig on Plantation of Pale Pink.
Vibrations in the Woods and Picking Seeds from My Skull from Waved Out.
Powerblessings from Kid Marine.
Other DTC demos/live versions on Hardcore UFOs box. (I used this version of “Trashed Aircraft” for my mix)

Human Amusements (1999)

26 Jan

Do the Collapse may have the worst reputation of any GBV album, but it’s about due for re-evaluation. It’s certainly not a bad album, but it is flawed. For me, the slick production isn’t really the problem — though it does get a bit sterile over the course of the LP, I actually enjoy hearing Doug Gillard’s excellent guitar work in perfect clarity. It’s the song selection and sequence that knock Do the Collapse down a notch for me. There were a lot of killer songs in the running, and not all of them made the cut. This is perhaps due to the influence of producer Ric Ocasek, who, so the story goes, dissuaded the band from recording fan favorites like “James Riot” for the album. Indeed, the Hold on Hope EP is full of great songs that maybe deserved a spot on the album.

I guess this is one album where the what-could-have-been scenario is more appealing than the real thing.

This early tracklist known as Human Amusements uses mostly the same songs as DTC, but is a better album, I think!

Human Amusements (1999)
1. Dragons Awake!
2. Surgical Focus
3. Optical Hopscotch
4. Teenage FBI
5. Avalanche Aminos (Hold on Hope EP)
6. Hold On Hope
7. Much Better Mr. Buckles
8. Zoo Pie
9. Things I Will Keep
10. Picture Me Big Time
11. Strumpet Eye
12. Liquid Indian
13. Underground Initiations (Hold on Hope EP)
14. Mushroom Art
15. Wrecking Now
16. Wormhole

My argument for this being better than DTC mostly hinges on the incredible “Avalanche Aminos,” a Pollard-Gillard co-write. The song flat-out RULES. It would improve any album, but it sounds especially great here after “Teenage FBI.” The only other non-DTC song is “Underground Initiations,” which is also a quintessential GBV rocker. Both songs are highly appealing, brimming with perfect melodies and excellent guitar work. They have a big positive impact on the overall energy of the album, and are some of the best and most noteworthy songs from this period. In short, they are exactly what I’d want from a “mainstream” GBV album. They were both dropped and replaced with “In Stitches” and “An Unmarketed Product” for the final version. While I like those songs, especially the turgid, pummeling “In Stitches,” they aren’t appealing in the same way.

Human Amusements boasts other improvements with regard to Do the Collapse. “Dragon’s Awake!” is an excellent opening song, with the brightly strummed acoustic guitar slowly being joined by other instruments. It’s a twisty, weird song, but is highly successful in drawing a listener in. Again, thinking of this in the context of being GBV’s big mainstream bid, I like this mysterious, intriguing opener more than the standard “hit single as track one” approach. After all, by simple virtue of being an album by Robert Pollard, it already flouts a number of rock music conventions.

“Dragons Awake!” leads beautifully into a true gem of the album, “Surgical Focus.” This is a strong yet not very flashy song that benefits greatly from the emphasis of an up-front placement. On DTC, “Zoo Pie” makes a strange choice for second track. It sounds more at home on Human Amusements as a deep album cut (not sure where the side breaks are, but assuming “Things I Will Keep” would have opened side two, “Zoo Pie” would close side 1).

“Optical Hopscotch,” one of the weaker songs on the album, sounds surprisingly good at track three. It’s a slow song that comes a little late on DTC, when the album needs something livelier. On Human Amusements it works very well as a bridge between “Surgical Focus” and “Teenage FBI.”

“Wormhole” does not make for the perfect closing song, but it does sound good in that position. I’m not a huge fan of the song, but coupled with the beautiful “Wrecking Now” at the end, it’s a nice closing pair. On DTC, “An Unmarketed Product” is a great closing song — a snappy exclamation point at the end of the album — but it is somewhat dwarfed by the long, languid “Picture Me Big Time.”

A thoroughly weird album, Do the Collapse may have been a misguided stab at mainstream success, but it is far from an artistic failure. I think Human Amusements puts its successes in a better light.

Try it.
Do the Collapse
Hold on Hope

And stay tuned for another, quite different version Do the Collapse that I will write about eventually!