Tag Archives: mag earwhig

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)

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Not In My Airforce (Working Version) (1996)

16 Jan

This earlier draft of Bob’s first solo album is mostly comprised of studio-recorded tracks, while the released version drops some of these and sprinkles the album with a handful of boombox and four-track recordings. Some of the songs cut from this early sequence ended up on Mag Earwhig. There’s an image of the lyric sheet for this version, complete with alternate titles, in the Suitcase booklet.

Not In My Airforce (Working Version)
1. I’ve Owned You For Centuries
2. The Finest Joke Is Upon Us
3. Get Under It
4. Gods Of Richard
5. Accountant’s Wife (Maggie Turns to Flies)
6. Girl Named Captain
7. Chance To Buy An Island
8. Flat Beauty
9. Finks
10. Learning To Hunt
11. On The Ashes (Release the Sunbird)
12. The Colossus Crawls West
13. God Bless The Monument Club (Psychic Pilot Clocks Out)
14. King Of Arthur Avenue
15. Applehead (The Ash Gray Proclamation)

I enjoy this sequence quite a bit, more than I thought I would. As a big fan of the official version, I thought I’d miss lo-fi songs like “Quicksilver” and “Parakeet Troopers” breaking up the big studio tracks.  However, these songs flow together remarkably well on their own, and the album as a whole lacks the darker, moodier tone of the proper album. Although I don’t think there’s a huge distinction between the two, this working version feels more like a Guided by Voices album to me than a solo album.

After the quick opening blast of “I’ve Owned You for Centuries,” the stately “The Final Joke is Upon Us” makes a brilliant second track. It sounds great with such a prominent spot on an album, in contrast to its “deep cut” status on Mag Earwhig. Much like “Finest Joke,” the other two future Mag Earwhig tracks — “Learning to Hunt” and “The Colossus Crawls West” — fit perfectly with the Airforce tunes.

Album-highlight “Get Under It” rounds out this opening trio nicely. Next, “Gods of Richard” is the most obscure song on this sequence, having been unheard/unreleased until Suitcase 2 came out in 2005. It’s not a long-lost classic, however: it’s a fairly unremarkable guitar instrumental that bears a slight resemblance to the opening chords of “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out.” In the context of the album it works well.

The only other song that never found a home on either Not in My Airforce or Mag Earwhig is the outstanding “Finks.” Until it was reissued on the Hardcore UFOs box, it was only ever released as a bonus track on a Japanese issue of Under the Bushes Under the Stars. It would have surely become a fan favorite on any album, as it’s a catchy-as-hell blast that actually briefly entered the band’s live set in 2003. I enjoy how the unlikely vocal melody skips across the simple riff, demonstrating Pollard’s knack for not being boring or obvious. Too bad it never made it to Mag Earwhig with the other Airforce orphans, but it is definitely a nice treat for anyone who tracks it down.

As on the final version, “Psychic Pilot” (here titled “God Bless the Monument Club”) is the late-album “hit,” and “Applehead” (AKA “The Ash Gray Proclamation”) makes a great closing track. “Applehead” is the only lo-fi recording on the NiMA Working Version, and is a holdover from some early Under the Bushes drafts, where it was also used as the closer.

With its impeccable flow and song selection, it’s well worth giving the working version a listen! Here’s what you need:

Not in My Airforce
Mag Earwhig!
Suitcase 2 (“Gods of Richard”)
Hardcore UFOs (“Finks”)

Incidentally, here are the tracks from the final album that don’t appear on the early draft:

Quicksilver
John Strange School (this is the only studio-recorded track that is NOT on the working version)
Parakeet Troopers (a Bee Thousand outtake formerly known as “Crayola”)
One Clear Minute
Roofer’s Union Fight Song
Prom is Coming
Party
Did it Play?
Double Standards Inc.
Punk Rock Gods
Meet My Team
Good Luck Sailor

It’s also interesting to note that the final six tracks on Not in My Airforce (starting with “Party”) don’t appear on early Matador promo copies. In fact, they were intended to be their own little EP, and were tacked onto the album at the last minute. That means “Prom is Coming” was the original closer, and “Psychic Pilot” was the penultimate track. The presence of those final six acoustic snippets somewhat diminishes the impact of that 1-2 punch.