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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
Sheetkickers
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

Compilation
Beneath a Festering Moon

Not in My Airforce
The Ash Gray Proclamation

Unreleased
Bender’s Bluffing Muscles

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!

Buy Isolation Drills, you idiot

Broadcaster House playlist on Spotify

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.

 

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.

A
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

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

C
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

D
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

The Power of Suck pt. 1 – The demos

6 Feb

The most legendary unreleased Guided by Voices album is surely The Power of Suck, a proposed double-album that would have been the follow-up to Alien Lanes. Its story is only the first chapter in the convoluted history leading up to the eventual release of Under the Bushes Under the Stars.

There’s been some speculation that this album may one day get a proper release. Made during the peak of the classic line-up days, fans would certainly love to have it set in stone and enter the official canon. However, it’s unclear what form an official version would take. Many of the songs intended for the earliest version never made it beyond the demo stage, yet most of the album’s key tracks DID see the light of day on high-profile releases such as Under the Bushes, Under the Stars and Sunfish Holy Breakfast. Ultimately, there is no one clear way to resurrect the album with the known recordings that exist, and there’s no ONE track sequence that covers everything. I can’t even cover it all in one post! (For proof, here’s a handy chart put together by Jeff from GBVDB.com.)

Now that the classic line-up is back together and making records, there is hope that some crucial steps required to complete the album — i.e. finalizing the tracklist, finding lost recordings, or even making new recordings —  can be made.  As excited as I am about new GBV material, I would certainly welcome a re-visitation of The Power of Suck era, due to the wealth of high-quality songs that never got wide exposure. However, due to some overlap between The Power of Suck and Under the Bushes, I hope care is taken not to overwrite or undermine the latter album’s place in GBV history. Besides, it will be far more interesting to dredge up the past if most of it is fresh and new. Fortunately, there exists enough non-album material that, if it is allowed to diverge from known working sequences, a satisfying, complete, finished Power of Suck (or reasonable facsimile) can be created. I can’t wait to see what Pollard comes up with (if anything) but until then I’ve been tinkering with my own sequence — more on that later.

The earliest known incarnation of PoS is a partial reconstruction of Pollard’s  first demo tape, published in James Greer’s book Hunting Accidents. According to Greer, it contained 10-12 songs, including:
1. Pantherz
2. Debbie X (I Am Decided)
3. Drag Days
4. Trader Vic
5. Bughouse
6. He’s The Uncle
7. Sheetkickers
8. Pink Drink
9. Why Did You Land?
10. Don’t Stop Now
Soon thereafter, the number of songs doubled and a second demo was made, with all of the above songs still included (come to think of it, maybe the new songs were just appended to the 10-12 earlier demos). According to owner Rich T., this second Power of Suck demo tape (made late 94 or early 95) consists of guitar and vocal versions of each track.
1. Pantherz
2. In Previous Trials (AKA Stingy Queens)
3. Trader Vic
4. Bug House
5. Drag Days
6. Sheetkickers
7. I Am Decided
8. Pink Drink
9. He’s The Uncle
10. Speak Like Men
11. Sweeping Bones
12. Don’t Stop Now
13. Why Did You Land?
14. Superwhore
15. Redmen And Their Wives
16. Color Of My Blade
17. Are You Faster?
18. My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence
19. Cocksoldiers And Their Postwar Stubble
20. The Official Ironmen Rally Song
21. Amazed
22. Pluto The Skate
The titles in bold are recordings from this tape that have either been officially released or are circulating as bootlegs. Although we have all these songs in one form or another, we don’t have all the Bob-and-guitar demo versions, some of which may be quite different from their released counterparts. For example, owner of this tape Rich Turiel has stated that the demo of “Why Did You Land?” contains a “killer middle part with a completely different melody.” And it has been confirmed that “Amazed” is a faster version of a song that appears on the Nightwalker album In Shop We Build Electric Chairs. Also, I speculate that those are new versions of “My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Pluto the Skate,” since the Suitcase versions are allegedly from 1992.Having the complete set of these demos would be great, and provide some missing pieces of the puzzle, but it wouldn’t really be The Power of Suck. These are just the demos — a pool of songs to choose from, but not an album sequence. It’s the unreleased, unrealized songs make this list most interesting.

Stingy Queens
Trader Vic
Speak Like Men
Sweeping Bones
My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence
Amazed

None of these six survived to the next known sequence, which still predates any actual full-band recording sessions. “Speak Like Men” does appear on Suitcase 3 in full-band form, but it seems to be an earlier, pre-PoS recording (no date is given). No band recordings of any other of these tracks have surfaced.

“Stingy Queens” is a standout of these “lost” tracks. A dark, yearning ballad, it’s quite different in style and tone from anything on Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. It’s too bad it never got the full-band treatment, because with some drums to help emphasize the shifting dynamics and some crunchy guitar to give the coda some added heft, it would be even better. It’s quite good in demo form, however, even when Pollard forgets the lyrics at one point.

“Sweeping Bones” is another epic song, though maybe a bit more rockin’ that “Stingy Queens.” This tune would have really benefited from a full-band arrangement because the main riff strongly recalls “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” I imagine with some bass, drums, and a second guitar in there it wouldn’t recall “Goldheart” quite so much.

“Trader Vic” is a joy, a pure Alien Lanes-style pop song with an incredibly catchy verse and a soaring chorus. The lyrics even reference a certain Ironman rally song: “We are the ironmen and we now command you to sing.”

“Speak Like Men” is another great pop song. It’s a casual, breezy rocker with a great chorus hook, and would have sounded right at home on Under the Bushes.

“My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Amazed” are more of a mystery, since we haven’t heard the PoS demos. The former is a mid-tempo acoustic number on Suitcase and it doesn’t seem to fit stylistically with the other PoS songs. I’d guess the demo version is reworked in some way to make it more in step with the others. It may be a new composition that incorporates elements of the older song. “Amazed” is another older song (the title of the Nightwalker album indicates it’s from 1993 or earlier). The Nightwalker version is also a mid-tempo acoustic song, but unlike the melodic folk of  “Feet’s,” “Amazed” is more experimental. The arrangement is heavy on droning keyboard and drum machine, and vocally it’s kind of a ramble, lacking a chorus but not without some appealing melodic elements. According to a post on the Disarm the Settlers message board, the demo version lacks the keyboard/drum machine and is guitar-based like the other demos. It’s the same basic song, but faster, and there’s a riff not present in the Nightwalker recording. It will be interesting to finally hear these if they turn up someday.

Ultimately, there’s too much Suck to be contained in one post. More will follow. Thanks to GBVDB’s Jeff for the help and resource material.

Track down the demos:

Suitcase 1
Pantherz, Bug House, Pink Drink (plus the older “My Feet’s Trustworthy Existence” and “Pluto the Skate”)

Suitcase 2
Stingy Queens, Are You Faster? (plus full-band “I Am Decided”)

Suitcase 3
Trader Vic (plus full-band “Speak Like Men”)

The Official Ironman Rally song — Free at robertpollard.net

Carefree Kitchens bootleg
I Am Decided, Speak Like Men, Sweeping Bones, Stingy Queens (all those plus Sheetkickers are also on 30 Songs)

Nightwalker – In Shop We Build Electric Chairs
(For non-PoS version of “Amazed”). Available on CD for $5 at The Factory and totally worth it!

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!

Back to Saturn X (1991)

19 Jan

Pollard’s approach to visual art is very similar to his approach to music. Both his collages and his albums are comprised of many disparate elements that he is able to blend together in a way that looks or sounds great, even when it’s a bit rough around the edges.  In the audio realm, he’ll sometimes punctuate a song with a fragment of another recording, blurring the distinction between carefully considered transition and happy accident. Sometimes these fragments are used as intros (“Paper Girl,” “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out”) and in some cases they become essential parts of a song — see Bee Thousand‘s “Ester’s Day” which is nearly inseparable from the bit that prefaces it (“Jimmy was a fly…”).

Whether previewing something new (the “Hot Freaks” intro on The Grand Hour) or looking back to the past (the “Broadcaster House” snippet on Isolation Drills), these collage-like fragments briefly tune you in to the cosmic radio station of the GBV universe. And the premiere program on that station is “Back to Saturn X Radio Report,” a tantalizing sound collage on Propeller comprised of bits and pieces of an unreleased album. Thanks to subsequent releases, we can reconstruct Back to Saturn X and ponder why it was shit-canned in the first place.

Note: A handful of these songs exist in multiple versions, and I’m not sure which would have appeared on the album. Let me know if you have any strong opinions on different versions.

Back To Saturn X
1. Fantasy Creeps (KS)
2. Perch Warble (SC1, SC2)
3. Dusty Bushworms (GOOMS, SC2)
4. Squirmish Frontal Room (KS)
5. Scalding Creek (GOOMS)
6. Melted Pat (GOOMS)
7. Spring Tiger (GOOMS, SC1)
8. Tractor Rape Chain (Clean It Up) (Magnet Magazine single)
9. Crutch Came Slinking (KS)
10. Mallard Smoke (SC1)
11. Sopor Joe (KS)
12. Chicken Blows (Alien Lanes)
13. Tricyclic Looper (KS)
14. Scissors And The Clay Ox (In) (SC1)
15. Damn Good Mr. Jam (SAJ, SC1)

KS = King Shit and the Golden Boys
GOOMS = Get Out of My Stations
SC = Suitcase
SAJ = Static Airplane Jive 

Back to Saturn X is similar to the two albums that preceded it (Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia and Same Place the Fly Got Smashed), finding the band honing their style, branching out creatively, and shedding the obvious R.E.M. influence of their first two LPs. Back to Saturn X is looser and more carefree than previous albums, however — especially compared to 1990’s dark tale of alcoholism Same Place the Fly Got Smashed. There’s a fun, kind of silly vibe to songs like “Fantasy Creeps,” “Sopor Joe” and “Melted Pat” that never really popped up on an earlier album, and “Scissors and the Clay Ox (In)” is downright jaunty. None of the songs are particularly dark, and though there are some heavy, punkish moments, it lacks the band’s noisier/experimental tendencies.

The guitar on Back to Saturn X has a distinct sound to it. It’s bright, yet raggedly distorted, and quite different from the clean arpeggios and leads often employed on earlier albums. The guitar sound on “Scalding Creek” and “Chicken Blows” is particularly awesome, and I can’t really tell if it’s acoustic or electric.

Another sonic hallmark of the Saturn tunes is a pronounced use of harmonies and backing vocals. They’re all over this record, from the very Beatles-esque harmonies of “Crutch Came Slinking” and “Chicken Blows” to the funny twittering at the end of “Sopor Joe.” “Fantasy Creeps” has an almost “Nowhere Man” thing going on during the chorus, and both “Scissors and the Clay Ox” and “Tractor Rape Chain (Clean it Up)” end with a group sing-along.

According to Robert Griffin from Scat Records, Back to Saturn X was  “totally ready to be put into production — edited master tapes, completed artwork…” before Bob decided it was ” fatally flawed” and shit-canned it. I think I can see why. The band is really finding its footing here, and it’s not as ambitious an album (for better or worse) as their previous four were. It’s a good album, but it seems more like a transitional recording that paved the way for their artistic breakthrough Propeller. Nevertheless, these were rich sessions that yielded some great tunes. The bulk of Get Out of My Stations, one of GBV’s best EPs in my opinion, is comprised of Back to Saturn X songs, and King Shit and the Golden Boys is also an essential listen.

Stray observations:

–Based on the notes in King Shit, Suitcase, and other sources, it would appear that the band at this time was Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Dan Toohey (bass) and Larry Keller (drums).

–“Spring Tigers,” “Dusty Bushworms” and “Damn Good Mr. Jam” have full band takes on Suitcase (all featuring Mitchell and Fennel), while their EP versions are comparatively stripped-down and have a more home-recorded feel.

–The Suitcase liner notes list a few songs that aren’t on this tracklist as being from the aborted Back to Saturn X LP. Robert Griffin thinks these may have actually been outtakes. Maybe these are hints of a different, working version. More info over at GBVDB.

–Pollard off-handedly sings “damn good Mr. Jam” (the title of the album’s closing song) at the beginning of “Melted Pat.”

–It’s pretty neat that “Chicken Blows” eventually ended up, three albums and numerous EPs later, on Alien Lanes. Such a great song.

–Tobin Sprout sings backing vocals on “Scissors And The Clay Ox (In).” He also co-wrote “Damn Good Mr. Jam.”

–Despite yielding one of the most transcendent choruses of all-time, “Tractor Rape Chain (Clean it Up)” is kind of a bore at such a languid tempo. Maybe Pollard agreed, because there’s a faster demo version of this song floating around with some other Propeller tracks.

–A few songs heard in “Back to Saturn X Radio Report” do not appear on this album: the nasty early version of “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows,” “Back to Saturn X” (the song), and “Mr. Japan.” Also the bit where Pollard can be heard saying “off and onward” has never been found or identified.

MAKE IT SO:
King Shit & the Golden Boys
Fantasy Creeps
Squirmish Frontal Room
Crutch Came Slinking
Sopor Joe
Tricyclic Looper

Get Out of My Stations
Scalding Creek
Melted Pat
Dusty Bushworms
Spring Tiger

Alien Lanes
Chicken Blows

Suitcase 1
Spring Tigers (full-band version)
Damn Good Mr. Jam (full-band version)
Mallard Smoke
Scissors and the Clay Ox (In)
Perch Warble

Suitcase 2
Dusty Bushworms (full-band version)
Perch Warble (alt.)

Static Airplane Jive (out of print, download it here though)
Damn Good Mr. Jam

Darla 100 Compilation
Tractor Rape Chain (Clean it Up)