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.

 

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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

Update

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!

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)

Standard Gargoyle Decisions Double-LP (2007)

13 Feb

Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions were recorded simultaneously and released on the same day. Even though they are twins, these two albums have a very strange dichotomy for  me. Coast to Coast is one of my favorites, while Standard Gargoyle sits near the bottom of the pile. I don’t think this speaks of a difference in quality, but rather of a wide divergence in style.

The drastic split between the two was actually a matter of design. Faced with a strong batch of 33 songs, Pollard considered placing them all together as a double-LP. However, he ultimately decided to separate them by the two distinct styles that most of the songs here naturally hew to: Beatles-esque pop or bizarre psychedelic hard rock. Coast to Coast is friendly, bright, and hook-filled, while Standard Gargoyle is thorny, evil and convoluted.

Here’s the double-LP tracklist. Once again, I have guessed where the side breaks would have been. Also note that “Accusations” would have been cut from the CD version, for space reasons.

Standard Gargoyle Decisions [Original Double-LP Version]
1. Our Gaze
2. Pill Gone Girl
3. Psycho-Inertia
4. Rud Fins
5. Hero Blows The Revolution
6. Exactly What Words Mean
7. Current Desperation (Angels Speak Of Nothing)
8. Dumb Lady

9. Penumbra
10. Slow Hamilton
11. Looks Is What You Have
12. I In The World
13. Butcher Man
14. Life Of A Wife
15. Customer’s Throat
16. Don’t Trust Anybody
17. Nicely Now

18. Spider Eyes
19. I Clap For Strangers
20. Shadow Port
21. Here Comes Garcia
22. The Island Lobby
23. Motion Sickness Ghosts
24. Miles Under The Skin
25. Youth Leagues

26. The Killers
27. Lay Me Down
28. Folded Claws
29. Feel Not Crushed
30. Accusations
31. Come Here Beautiful
32. When We Were Slaves
33. Count Us In

The dual aesthetics here make for a more schizophrenic listen than another scrapped double-LP, 2009’s Elephant Jokes round 1. The Elephant Jokes material was much more consistent in tone, without a striking contrast between the pop and the experimental stuff. Here, the juxtaposition between two styles provides the tension that powers this long album. Of course, since these songs were all recorded at the same time by the same people, there is a certain consistency between them as well (and, of course, there are more than just two styles here).

With the Coast to Coast tracks providing sweetness, Standard Gargoyle songs go down a lot easier. I love hearing them in this context.  “Our Gaze” leading into “Pill Gone Girl” is a nice opening pair. “The Killers” on side four instead of the album opener is a big improvement — it’s a good song, but it was already used as the opening track on Psycho & the Birds’ All That is Holy, and I prefer that lo-fi take on the tune. “I Clap for Strangers,” a sleeper-hit on Coast to Coast, stands out better sandwiched between the pummeling “Spider Eyes” and the darkly chugging “Shadow Port.”

After color-coding the double-LP’s tracklist, it became apparent that the first half is skewed toward Coast to Coast (blue) while the second half is mostly SGD (red). So with the halves already pulling apart a bit, separating them wasn’t a major operation at all.

Want one?
Merge has a bundle of both albums!
Coast to Coast Carpet of Love (digital)
Standard Gargoyle Decisions (digital)

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!