Thursday, December 22, 2005

Guided By Voices: Vampire on Titus (1993)

I don't think it is even possible to enjoy the majority of Vampire on Titus on the first listen, as it takes Guided By Voices' lo-fi sound to the extreme. It is a mix of some of GBV's heaviest songs and some slower numbers. The heavy tracks have great guitar parts, but are plagued by the tinniest, hard-to-hear vocals. Some may consider the vocal quality as endearing for GBV, but in fact it really does take away from the songs, mainly due to the fact that these are some of the best cuts in GBV's catalog. After a couple of listens, you should be able to hear the melody hidden behind the fuzz. The acoustic tracks are also lo-fi, but with better sounding vocals...

Let's go through the heavy fuzzed-out tracks first. These include "Wished I Was a Giant", Expecting Brainchild, Dusted, Sot, Unstable Journey, and Perhaps Now the Vultures. All of these songs except for Perhaps Now the Vultures are going to make my best of GBV playlist. Poor sound quality aside, they contain great riffs and sound better after each listen.

"Wished I Was a Giant" is a great opener, filled with huge power chords and a pounding drum beat. Sot is the "prettiest" of the group with a great lead and superb melodic vocals from Robert Pollard. Out of all the heavy tracks, Unstable Journey is my personal favorite. This one gets going and doesn't let up till the end, and Pollard's vocals have some odd echo effect going on. I wish there was a clearer version of this around somewhere (maybe there is).

The next group of songs are the beautiful slow/acoustic gems. These include the haunting #2 In the Model Home Series (which is unlike anything else GBV have put out), the shit quality yet dark Donkey School, the simply and quick acoustic World of Fun, and the beautiful ballads Jar of Cardinals, Gleemer, and Wondering Boy Poet. It is easy to put these songs on my best-of GBV playlist and box set since they are all within the one minute or so length. I should also note that there is a gorgeous piano version of Wondering Boy Poet on Suitcase 2.

What About It? and Non-Absorbing round out what really is a great album hidden behind lousy production. Non-Absorbing is the best song on the disc quality-wise, and maybe would have made a better fit on Bee Thousand.

The last group of songs are the throwaways, which include Superior Sector Janitor X, Marchers in Orange, E-5, and Cool Off Kid Kilowatt. What was that, Marchers in Orange...the Marchers in Orange which is often a fan favorite!? Maybe you will like this song. I have tried and failed. I do however love the rock version on the Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP (which also has a better version of Dusted by the way).

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my playlist/box set)
01 "Wished I Was a Giant"
02 #2 In the Model Home Series
03 Expecting Brainchild
04 Superior Sector Janitor X
05 Donkey School
06 Dusted
07 Marchers in Orange
08 Sot
09 World of Fun
10 Jar of Cardinals
11 Unstable Journey
12 E-5
13 Cool Off Kid Kilowatt
14 Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim)
15 Wondering Boy Poet
16 What About It
17 Perhaps Now the Vultures
18 Non-Absorbing

LINKS:
Vampire on Titus at Amazon

14 comments:

largeheartedboy said...

I think your comment a tad unfair...the vocal production only adds to the mystique of VOT..its not meant to be an easy listen...but after a half a dozen plays the rewards start to reveal themselves..this is GBV at thier best...but maybe not a good place to start for the uninitiated...Wished i was a giant is easily one of the best songs of that GBV era...in my humble opinion....

The Rock Robot said...

I agree that if GBV actually did want to make VOT an easy listen, they could have simply rid of the what I called "tinniest, hard-to-hear vocals". Therefore, the sound is on purpose. Also, the distractions slowly leave after a few listens (as you have mentioned).

I actually did buy Vampire on Titus early on in my GBV purchases, and at first was turned off a little. However, I think it was my ability to overcome the recording quality and love the songs anyway which proved that GBV was the band for me.

Thanks for the comment!

jazman said...

PUH-LEASE! Bad vocal recordings "only add to the GbV mystique"? Mystique my ass...if you watched "Watch Me Jumpstart" and saw the way Bob and Tobin put together some of their "vocal overdubs", you know why this sounds so shitty...they did it really quickly, and in my opinion, uncaringly. Why? Because this album wasn't ever supposed to be heard by anyone, I guess. Remember, this was the point in GbV's career where Bob was throwing all the album covers away and chucking it in for a life in the Dayton Public School System!

I first heard this disc through my Sony Discman at the John Wayne Orange County airport...and was I ever disappointed - I thought my headphones were crappin' out! Then I put my bootleg copy of AL/UTBUTS back in and whaddya know, the 'phones are OK, it's the album that sucks. I listened to Vampire off an on for about 3 months, then put it away until one day, heading off for a job in a VERY CRAPPY MOOD (probably something bothering me about the Bush Administration, no doubt), I decided to play it again...as I thought "I'm so into GbV that I'll probably even like Vampire on Titus". And guess what...I DID! Well, I can't say that I loved every minute, as I think many of the vocal recordings are pure slop (I mean, c'mon...there's hi-fi, there's lo-fi, there's noise, and then there's just crap, and the vocal sound on "Wished I was a Giant" is not Scottish, it's CRAP!); but I began to appreciate it for what I think it is...a disc of ideas and demos; some of which could be fleshed out to become great songs; some of which are pretty much finished (Gleemer); and some which are better off left alone.

Also, I have to disagree vehemently with you about "Marchers in Orange". I know you've stated that you don't compare GbV songs to other artists, but I think it's perfectly valid to do so. Bob and GbV are nothing if not fans of rock first, then performers, and so I absolutely think they have other bands in mind when they put down their own sounds. With "Marchers", I hear something harking back to the experimental progressive days of the 70s British stuff, with bands like The Strawbs, Genesis, and perhaps even Robert Wyatt and the Soft Machine. This is what makes Bob so damned good...he's a fucking savant, he doesn't just have a cursory knowledge of pop and prog rock, he knows the entire catalog! I love the lyric of this song, creating an imagery of some sort of political party/rally on a subconcious level.

Overall, though, I'm glad they moved beyond this type of lo-fi...I'd just have to classify several of the songs on this album as really hard to listen to.

The Rock Robot said...

Hey jazman. When I read (from your comment), "I'm so into GbV that I'll probably even like Vampire on Titus", the sentence immediately stuck in my head. This is exactly the way I approach a Pollard album. Is it possible to actually train yourself to like something? Often when I exclude a track from my playlist, a fan of the song will say, "I'm sure you will like it if you listen to it more", and often I feel like they are saying, "Try harder". From posting/reading the forums at Disarm the Settlers, I can get a feeling at what songs are considered hits (such as this version of "Marchers in Orange"). When it is time to decide if I should include the song or not, I find myself listening to it over and over, and trying to like it. However, fans of GBV seem to be understanding that for every song, there are those who love it, those who like it, those who don't care, and those who hate it.

Regarding how I don't compare GBV with other artists, it may be also due to my personal lack of musical knowledge. My musical tastes are rooted in the early 90's grunge/alternative movement, and lately have been moving towards the emerging indie scene (which is where I found GBV). I have somewhere around 600-700 CDs, yet it is a very focused collection, and GBV is pretty much an entirely different genre within my collection. I am actually a fairly new fan, which is why this guide has been so useful to myself, since it is helping me get through this entire catalog and not feel so lost.

That being said, that is the reason I love reading your comments as they provide an alternate take on the album, and having alternate views is essential. Thanks for providing your ideas to this blog, and I look forward to reading your next comment (can't wait to hear your take on "Alien Lanes").

jazman said...

Well, ya know, it reminds me of the old Onion headline from the news items on page two a while ago: "FRIEND TELLS OTHER FRIEND 'YOU JUST HAVEN'T HEARD THE RIGHT ZAPPA ALBUM YET!' "

In other words, sometimes things hit ya, sometimes they grow on ya, and sometimes they miss. Sure, it's possible to learn to like a song, because the more you listen, the more you notice certain songwriting tendencies. That's what got me about Vampire on Titus...I got past the shitty vocals and the several very average heavy rocker-type songs and began to notice the unique "Pollardisms" in certain numbers. Truth be known, I'm still in my initial stages with Vampire...haven't got all the songs linked up in memory with the tunes yet, but a few more listens should do it!

St. Antoine said...

Regarding jazman's comment that, with VoT Pollard was at the point where he was "throwing all the album covers away and chucking it in for a life in the Dayton Public School System"... According to the Jim Greer book, the flinging of the record jackets was done with copies of their first, self-produced effort, Forever Since Breakfast. By the time of Vampire, they were just finally starting to get the recognition that Bob always thought they deserved and he was just starting to kick it into gear, song-wise. It's actually perhaps the very first album that they recorded entirely on Tobin's four-track, and i think the freedom of this recording method allowed for a frantic pace that was, i believe, largely responsible for the sound.

mikejaz said...

Well put, St. A...

Like I said, I see "Titus" as an album with a lot of ideas. I think Bob (or someone) could revisit it and make a hell of a disc with it.

Anonymous said...

Why can't people accept that some of us like lo-fi and do it on purpose. GBV had worked in a studio, they'd had Mike Rep give Propeller a full "stadium" sound, and they chose to make Vampire on Titus sound the way it does.
'#2 in the Model Home Series' is one of my favourite GBV songs. Creepy! Nice site.

Anonymous said...

The first GBV LP I bought / heard (c/o the Scat 2-fer) & still one of my absolute favourites - am so glad Bob hasn't gone back & cherrypicked it for re-recording ala the Tigerbomb version of "Pricks"/"Knife" (sorry, but I much prefer the originals). Some of Bob's loveliest ("Wondering Boy Poet") & weirdest ("What About It") songs turn up on here, alongside my favourite Tobin song EVER ("Gleemer"). Think I might dig it out & play it RIGHT NOW actually...! IBx

Griffin said...

Expecting Brainchild is one of the best songs GBV ever wrote..."Superman died tonight, ate a pound of krypotnite". I used to write that on the bathroom walls in high school. And YES, the piano version of "Wondering Boy Poet" shows the quality of Bob's writing, not just the lo-fi chic aspect.

cityofdaughters said...

Without a doubt, my favorite GBV release. I dont think the recording quality of Vampire on Titus takes anything away from any of the songs. It gives the whole record this unifying sound that really throws you into the mood the album puts off. There isn't a single throw-away track on here either and "Cool Off Kid Kilowatt" is certainly not one of them. It's not too surprising that someone who digs Do the Collapse so much doesn't agree...

Tim said...

this is really not about VOT, I only just realized how much I rely on this blog! I just got into GBV last year and really bought one album after the other and every EP I could get my hands on. whenever I feel like it, I just visit your blog to get some information on a release that I might wanna try and find somewhere. Then, when I first listen to the particular CD, I return here and read your notes again. So right at this very moment, I listen to VOT for the very first time, 'DUSTED' just started, and, well, I really felt like sharing this. So thank you so much and keep it up!

Anonymous said...

The record is perfect. The vocal sound is extraordinary. Put on your headphones and listen to the whole album.This is Pollard.Raw and pure.Love it or leave it.Plus the best Sprout song (gleemer).

Anonymous said...

I like it and won't leave it.

My list:

World Of Fun
"Wished I Was A Giant"
#2 In The Model Home Series
Expecting Brainchild
Superior Sector Janitor X
Perhaps Now The Vultures
Gleemer (The Deeds Of Fertile Jim)
Marchers In Orange
Sot
Jar Of Cardinals

I prefer the FJSC Dusted and Suitcase WB Poet. Marchers is top ten Gbv for me.