Saturday, January 07, 2006

Guided By Voices: Alien Lanes (1995)

Essential, absolutely essential. From the opening bassline of A Salty Salute (GBV's drinking song), through my favorite Guided By Voices track of all time (My Valuable Hunting Knife), and up to the brilliant closer (Alright), Alien Lanes is pure rock n' roll gold. There are 28 tracks on this disc, most just over a minute in length, all tempting you to pull out the old air guitar and dance around in your kitchen. As Propeller, Vampire on Titus, and Bee Thousand all have a legitimate claim to the greatest GBV album, Alien Lanes can be added to that mix...

The CD is put in the player, the bassline of A Salty Salute begins, and you are brought right into the magic that is Alien Lanes. GBV's song about drinking (or their drinking song), is a live staple and the source to GBV's neon sign "The Club is Open". I could have this track on repeat and listen to it all day.

Evil Speakers is a wonderful fifty-eight seconds, with a right into the middle of things intro ("I am breathing, yet I feel no sky"). The song defies structure, and it sounds as if we have been thrown into the middle of a song, and leave before it is finished. Watch Me Jumpstart is another rock anthem ("Straight from ground zero, x marks the spot/I can't pretend to be be something I'm not/'Cause I'm a supernova erect and white hot"). A continuous riff drives this song, and an excellent chorus help make it a GBV "hit".

They're Not Witches is another under a minute track; a quick haunting little acoustic song. Guided By Voices channel The Beatles for As We Go Up We Go Down, one of my favorite more acoustic tracks. I can't help but get pumped when the line "I speak in monotone: Leave my fucking life alone" is sung, as it is a contradiction to the happy, everything is hunky-dory style music. (I Wanna Be A) Dumbcharger sounds as if it is a portion of a larger song. This is another darker track (in fact it would sound okay on a Circus Devils album - have I mentioned how much the Circus Devils rock yet? I guess I won't be at 2001 for a while yet, so hold on).

Alright, before I get any hate mail for not including Game of Pricks, let me just say that the reason is because I am adding the single version...that's all. Yes there is something to say for the lo-fi version, but I prefer the single, more produced version (and I love the tacked on intro on that version too). Be as that may, Game of Pricks is another rock anthem (this album is full of them).

The Ugly Vision is another haunter, but it has one of the most beautiful finishes (it kind of reminds me of Bright Paper Werewolves from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars). A Good Flying Bird is a Tobin Sprout minute long pop gem, which in that short time manages to fit in two verses, two choruses, and whatever that other thing is called (Interlude? Bridge?). Cigarette Tricks is eighteen seconds long, and the first track on Alien Lanes I won't put on my playlist, mostly because it is so short I guess.

Pimple Zoo is odd, it is just Pollard yelling "Sometimes I get the feeling that you don't want me around", but it rocks so hard. This is what I call a quick shot (42 seconds) of rock, maybe one of those "prescriptions" Pollard is talking about in I Am A Scientist. Big Chief Chinese Restaurant gets in on the playlist due to that weird/yet cool solo that kicks in halfway, just wonderful. The Closer You Are is an obvious add on to the playlist, a two minute (epic?) pop melody which is sometimes unbearably catchy.

It took a while for me to get into Auditorium. Is wasn't until I saw it paired with Motor Away in the video for the two songs that I realize the genius in the positioning of the two tracks. By itself, Auditorium is an okay song, but as an intro to Motor Away, it is awesome. As for Motor Away, you must hear this song before you die. I see it as a brother to Game of Pricks, as they are similar musically. I think I even like this version more than the single one, but am still a bit undecided. I also would like to play it after Auditorium on the box set I will be creating when this is all over. This is rock n' roll.

I honestly don't see what the big deal is about Hit, a twenty second song. It found its way onto the GBV Best Of album Human Amusements, so maybe I'm missing something, or maybe it was the representative for GBV's twenty second songs. Since it is a harmless twenty seconds, I'll put it on the playlist.

And now on to the one song that makes me dance more than any other, with my air guitar flailing uncontrollably; My Valuable Hunting Knife. The lyrics, perfect. The melody/vocals, perfect. And the guitar, unbelievable. How is this song not a worldwide hit!? The guitar riff in this track is so good, I could listen to it by itself all day. There is also a single version, which is quite interesting, and different enough to maybe get added to the playlist as well as this version. I do like the Alien Lanes version more.

Gold Hick is another thirty-second quicky which I'm passing on. Hey, I took Hit. King and Caroline is a beautiful track which reminds me of a few tracks from Bee Thousand. It is a simple, bare-bones melody which finishes off with some great multi-voice chorus. Oh, I haven't even covered Striped White Jets yet. Another great rocker, Striped White Jets has a riff lurking in the background until the fourth part of the verse, then the song is blown wide open into a distorted heaven. I always said how I felt Weed King should never have been left off of the Best Of, Human Amusements. Striped White Jets is another that should have made that album. It's purpose as an introduction album could have used Striped White Jets to show GBV's heavier side.

Ex-Supermodel is not making my playlist, and yes it is because of the snoring sound going on throughout. Blimps Go 90 sounds like something that should be heard on the radio, a surefire radio hit if given the chance. It is way better than all that Matchbox 20 crap. Therefore I'll call Blimps Go 90 a 90's pop hit, even though it wasn't.

Strawdogs is another Tobin Sprout song, but not his best from this album (that is reserved for Little Whirl). His songs have a way of taking me back to the 60's, a decade in which I never lived actually, being born in '81. As for Little Whirl, it is the wicked chorus that makes this song great ("I don't care what you do anymore"). This is one of Tobin's finest. Chicken Blows uses a tremolo type effect on the vocals which makes it sound like Pollard is singing underwater. It is actually a very nice song, which after a couple of listens stops sounding weird in any way.

My Son Cool has never really stood out for me. It is definately the closest track that makes my playlist to not making it. I like the bottom half where Pollard is just singing "Around you my love" over and over. I'm throwing Always Crush Me in the throwaway pile, even though the guitar riff is pretty cool. I'm not a very big fan of the vocals on this one.

The longest track at just under three minutes is the finale, Alright. This is a beautiful, nearly instrumental fuzz-rock outro. Everything from the passionate drumming, distorted power chords, beautiful lead, and minimal vocals of the word "alright" sang four times, make this a perfect song.

Alien Lanes is great. I would suggest that it be among the earlier GBV purchases for a new fan. It may be the most rocking of all Guided By Voices albums, and at 28 tracks (most of which are awesome), how can you go wrong?

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):
01 A Salty Salute
02 Evil Speakers
03 Watch Me Jumpstart
04 They're Not Witches
05 As We Go Up, We Go Down
06 (I Wanna Be A) Dumbcharger
07 Game of Pricks *
08 The Ugly Vision
09 A Good Flying Bird
10 Cigarette Tricks
11 Pimple Zoo
12 Big Chief Chinese Restaurant
13 Closer You Are
14 Auditorium
15 Motor Away
16 Hit
17 My Valuable Hunting Knife
18 Gold Hick
19 King and Caroline
20 Striped White Jets
21 Ex-Supermodel
22 Blimps Go 90
23 Strawdogs
24 Chicken Blows
25 Little Whirl
26 My Son Cool
27 Always Crush Me
28 Alright

* - I will likely include the single version, not the one from Alien Lanes

Alien Lanes at Amazon


Radio Free Burke said...

Before I caught the UTBUTS fever, AL was my very favorite. When I put it on, it reminds me why I fell in love with GBV, moreso than B000, VoT, or Prop. Alien Lanes is #2 on my list - soooooo many great tracks. Oh, "Always Crush Me" is great...just give it a little time.

The Rock Robot said...

Hey RFB, I think in the future I may have to post an article with other fans' thoughts about songs they love/like that I did not include in my playlist, such as "Always Crush Me" and "Indian Fables". Songs like "Always Crush Me" are right on the edge when it comes to me choosing them or not, and I think in that particular case it was the overall greatness of AL which made it seem not-so-good. However, if it were on, say, Static Airplane Jive, it would have stood out as a better song.

jazman said...

Hi RR and all - still trying to find the time to write my views about the entire Alien Lanes, which, because it is SUCH a dense album, will take some time. For now, let's discuss My Valuable Hunting Knife.

I love the song because it's so childlike (the worship and loyalty of a trusted fetish or object - I remember what it was like to love a pocketknife or other small toy when I was a boy), but mature in that it apes the typical rock song structure (you know, like the Beach Boys singing about "409, she's real fine", or the Del Fuegos saying their girl's cool like great ride), which is a grown-up, artistic thing to do. The Alien Lanes version stands out because of it's sparse but dominant instrumentation. When I first heard it I just couldn't get enough of that skwonky guitar sound - all the guitar players in GbV are fab, but Tobin's sound here really stands out. And of course, it's got a great singable of Pollard's strengths is that he seems to have an inexhaustable talent for creating real melodies, as opposed to just arranging notes around the basic chord structure of a song. Anyway, it's a cool song!

And according to GBVDB, there are 5 versions of it. I'm only conversant with three so far; this version, the "Shernoff" version, which I've heard on the "B1000 director's cut abridged CD", and my personal fave version, the 7" version from the Tigerbomb EP.

I like the Tigerbomb version because it keeps the slower pacing, the sort of Casio-ized electronic bleat-beat of the AL version but adds huge guitar bass and drum muscle when the second chorus kicks into gear. When I first played this version, I had the volume on my Honda's stereo way up, as the song that preceeds it on Demons and Painkillers is rather lo-fi. Was I ever surprised when the guitars kicked in!! They're massive, going right into you and GRABBING your gut, shaking you awake and commanding LISTEN TO US, DAMMIT! One hell of an arrangement, and my fave of all of this song.

The Rock Robot said...

Hi jazman! I'm always interested to hear your take on a song/album. Though the final chorus of the Tigerbomb version truly does kick the listener's ass with its heavy guitar, I still like the the Alien Lanes version more. the low key version must be the closest thing to a dance hit GBV has, as it is simply a feel good/happy tune. By the way, one of the local stations here in Edmonton played it yesterday and I didn't even know the DJs knew who GBV was.

I have yet to hear the "Shernoff" version - as I have been picking up other Pollard releases first before picking up Bee Thousand DC for the extra 5 tracks. How is it different?

St. Antoine said...

Another great review... As another relative GbV newbie i am really very much on your same wavelength. I also, however, am on the Always Crush Me bandwagon, but will say that it was one of the later bloomers for me... Also i kind of prefer the version of Hunting Knife for which there is a video on the Watch me Jumpstart DVD... Is that the Tigerbomb or "Shernoff" version?

Oh yeah, i'm also with you on the Auditorium-as-intro point, though i've recently started to feel it on its own as well. Shit i could go on... Game of Pricks, though, is one of my all-time favorite songs (though i, too, prefer the single... that's the one on Human Amusements, right?)

jazman said...

Well, apparently the Shernoff version (available on the "Bee Thousand Director's Cut abridged CD") was originally recorded live, but has been mixed so as to minimize the live sound. It's a straight-ahead rock reading of the song, and certainly kicks ass, as GbV is a kickass live outfit.

I certainly agree that the Alien Lanes version of "Knife" is a great song. Those overdriven skweeky guitars are the coolest!

jazman said...

Oh, and call that DJ in Edmonton and tell him that he's cooler and better than any DJ in the world, or at least my world here in Chicago, where GbV barely gets a mention (oh, they're finally catching up to Bob's new album...)

Anonymous said...

dude, what's the point of leaving off four tracks outta 28? i mean, those are good numbers, why not just give into the entire record? i guess it might have to do w/ the lack of vinyl b/c when you play the two sides of this album, there's a remarkable number of distinguishing, visable grooves which are almost intimidating when it comes to the daunting task of visually finding the song breaks, i.e. it's all one piece (or two pieces, sides) essentially. anyway, keep writing about your collection!

The Rock Robot said...

It is a bit daunting knowing that I am going to select almost the entire album for the playlist/box set. But what can I say, if every song is good, then every song makes the list.

However, if a song on an album like Alien Lanes is not quite rockin', then it really does stand out (to me) as a dud, when it may have sounded terrific on another album. Hope that makes sense.

jazman said...

Yeah, I feel that way about "The King and Caroline"...just sounds like a bad 70s ballad to me, and it's gotten more insipid every time I hear it. I'd leave it off the list, if I was making one.

jack said...

Ive read a bunch of your reviews and think your doing a great job Rock Robot. That said, I think when making the ultimate play list, you should only pick the VERY VERY best. Having a list of about 500 GBV songs is cool, but to have it around 100 or less might be better.

Just trying to make your job harder

also Jazman, King and Caroline is a stone cold classic, in my opinion

Joe said...

My Son Cool is actually one of my all time faves. With many of these songs, after the next one starts, the previous one feels like it was an intro for the current song, if that makes any sense. Yeah, it would be hard to cut any of these from my playlist.

jazman said...

OY, Jack, I'll just leave K and C as stone cold.

Was at a party in a bowling alley a couple weekends ago, and their jukebox actually had "Closer You Are"...and someone played it!!!

Anonymous said...

i think always crush me deserves reconsideration for the following: 1-the lyrics, on this album and on utbuts i feel like the lyrics contain a long story/conversation between bob and tobin, this songs being particularly revealing, he seems to be angrily defending his failures as a leader in leu of his tough life, an unusually petty moment compirable to "the brides have hit glass" and somehow very nientiesy, like pavement or the pixies, another rarity for a man so entrenched in rocks back catalouge. 2- the vocal sound, it goes from dour mtv unplugged pollard (something he never did enough of) to a near perfect john-lennon-through-a-megaphone impression halfway on, and to thrilling effect, like if benefit of mister kite was a song on slanted and enchanted 3- the insturmentation, i once read that pollard was best as a miniaturist, and while i think thats a bs excuse used to avoid a huge portion of the mans work, its half right, sometimes he can take one instrument track and sing over it and it sounds so

Anonymous said...

simple and powerful that its like a little movie (club molluska, liars tale, goldheart mountaintop), i think this, while not the best, is made important still for its inclusion in this special subset of his sound (i think gold from FACE is the ultimate song in this group) who else can get so much out of so few notes

also id make the case for strawdogs on account of the way the chorus propels the verse rather than vice versa, so the first verse is little jarring and weird, but the more you hear it the more it starts to dig into your brain. plus the lyrics seem aimed right at bob, and they sum up the dickness that was bob shitcanning his buddies, THEY ARE THE WILLING SUPPORTERS! its like hes saying "were all just fans to bob" even though i forgive him and love gillard/tobias its powerful human theater

Anonymous said...

hey guys, im havin shitty times

my life is in complex shambles and my beautiful girl is cheating on me

sometimes i think r-bert pollard is all i have

now i know that the real reason were all pollard fans is cause we just want a little forgiveness and attention like him

so for fucks sake

respond to my well thought out comments

Anonymous said...

My favorite GBV record.

When I first heard them a year ago, the sheer mass of Pollard songs was both exciting and daunting so I made a list like yours based on first impressions. I'd leave one song off a record too.

On this one, it was Strawdogs because it felt too "straight" in context. I now like it a lot but if I had to cut something it would be that one or King & Caroline. (I prefer the Tigerbomb GOP and MVHK too, but wouldn't consider dropping the AL versions.)

As I was going through the catalog, I wouldn't listen to the list or an older record again until I'd finished; by then up to Of Course You Are. Somewhere along the line this tune kept popping into my head for weeks that I was sure was a Mick Jones Clash song and it really bugged me because I didn't want to break the Pollard spell by listening to old records. O the blissful relief when I went through the finished 900-song list and was blown away again by Little Whirl.