Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Guided By Voices: Tonics And Twisted Chasers (1996)

Originally a fan club vinyl release, Tonics And Twisted Chasers was re-released with five extra tracks in 1997, and can still be purchased from Rockathon Records. This album probably has more in common with Airport 5 than it does with Guided By Voices, since it is a collaboration between Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout. I see it as sort of a minimalistic GBV, which makes great use of drum machines and some keyboards. As for its importance in a GBV collection, I would say it is a requirement. The album is nowhere near as rocking as other GBV albums, but instead is full of beautiful and simple melodies...

Satellite starts things off. I have to admit I have trouble getting into this song, even though the guitar is really interesting. I read on Disarm the Settlers somewhere that a true GBV mix should contain some of their trademark "throwaways", so maybe I'll count Satellite as one of those. Either way, it rates amongst the worse of GBV's intro songs. It is immediately followed by the nostalgic and beautiful Dayton Ohio - 19 Something And 5. There is a live version of this track on Selective Service which I find myself playing more often, yet this one sounds more depressing which I think is partly the point. In fact, plenty of tracks on this disc bring along a feeling of sadness; mostly the acoustic ones. Is She Ever? is another one, and at just a minute in length delivers some gloomy melancholy.

I can't really hear much similarity between this version of My Thoughts Are A Gas and the one on Demons and Painkillers (Hardcore UFOs box set). In fact, the Demons and Painkillers one is quite a rocking tune, whereas the one here is a downright toss off. Demons and Painkillers also contains a better version of The Key Losers. The version of Knock 'Em Flyin' on this album is a virtual duplicate of the one on Mag Earwhig! other than being less produced and missing the outro. That being said, it is a fairly cool track, though I'll be including the Mag Earwhig! version instead. As for Ha Ha Man, both this version and the one on Suitcase are excellent, and different enough for both to be included in the playlist. This version is about half the length (like 30 seconds total) and includes a backing vocal from Tobin Sprout.

Top Chick Silver Chord is one of the best tracks on Tonics And Twisted Chasers. It has a real neat guitar rhythm, and even the drum machine effect goes with it quite well. It finishes at just over a minute like most of the tracks on the album do (its 24 songs only runs for about 35 minutes). Wingtip Repair reminds me all too much of the Vampire On Titus version of Marchers In Orange (which I did not like). For the Canadian fans out there, Pollard sounds like Gord Downie from Tragically Hip on At The Farms. This is another gorgeous yet downer track which hits a peak when Pollard starts singing "and returning thus to the simple life" over and over again.

There is no way Unabaited Vicar Of A Scorched Earth can be left off the list, and perhaps off of a one-disc best of? After nearly a minute guitar intro, Pollard brings in some perfect melody to add to the synth drums and spacey guitar, and finally to an unbelievably catchy chorus of "A child did rumble/Went kicking loud trash/But the unabaited vicar of scorched earth knows that". And then the song fades out just as it starts kicking ass. Probably the most positive sounding, and pure rock and roll track on this album is Optional Bases Opposed. It could probably be classified as fuzz-rock for the special distortion sound.

Baseball is the most boring sport out there (and while I'm chatting about sports, hockey is the most exciting), and Look, It's Baseball is one of Pollard's most dull. I know this song gets tons of credit from many fans, but I just don't see what the big deal is. The 45 second long Maxwell Jump Is Dead has a fine final eight seconds or so, which is not enough to make up for the first bit which is mostly a throwaway. Now onto the almost-danceable 158 Years Of Beautiful Sex, which takes the synth sound to the limit with that good old drum machine. "Loads of creamy music and lots of time to make it", Pollard sings over the wicked beat, and then some heavy distorted guitar kicks in and the song is over just as it is really getting interesting.

The Stir Crazy Pornographer is just over two minutes in length and finds itself the third longest on the disc. It finishes okay, but generally the track drags on, and doesn't really stand out at all. Universal Nurse Finger finds Pollard singing with what appears to be a completely different voice. I'm throwing it into the same pile as Marchers In Orange...sorry I just don't like this style of music (the weird keyboard thing), and refuse to feel bad about it since I love hundreds of Pollard's other songs. I would love to hear a heavy version of Sadness Is To End (and maybe a longer version), one of my favorite Tobin vocal performances. The final track from the original version of Tonics And Twisted Chasers is Reptilian Beauty Secrets, a fuzzed-out and slightly creepy (creeping) track in which sounds as if Pollard is singing into a walkie-talkie when he says "Over and out".

The final five tracks are added to to CD version of Tonics And Twisted Chasers. One has to wonder how Long As The Block Is Black and Jellyfish Reflector didn't make the original cut. The former sounding like two different tracks (both featuring shining Pollard vocals - he can really sing sometimes), and the latter being a funky and fun romp. The final three tracks had me listening to them on repeat for about a half hour before deciding only The Candyland Riots was not going to make the playlist. It has a strong finish, but overall is sort of repetitive. The Kite Surfer almost didn't make the cut, but the part where Pollard sings "Now the names/Now the briefcase/Now the single cash old ladies/A vending quest of clicking fingers/May I choose another mascot" is wonderful. Girl From The Sun rocks hard, so it makes the list.

I have always taken pleasure with listening to Tonics And Twisted Chasers. Other than a general gloomy tone, it shares hardly any commonalities with fellow 1996 album Under The Bushes Under The Stars. However, there are some choice songs on this disc, and I would definately recommend picking up the CD version for the five bonus tracks.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):
01 Satellite
02 Dayton, Ohio - 19 Something and 5
03 Is She Ever?
04 My Thoughts Are A Gas (Fucked Up Version) *
05 Knock 'Em Flyin' *
06 Top Chick Silver Chord
07 Key Losers *
08 Ha Ha Man
09 Wingtip Repair
10 At The Farms
11 Unabaited Vicar Of Scorched Earth
12 Optional Bases Opposed
13 Look, It's Baseball
14 Maxwell Jump
15 The Stir-Crazy Pornographer
16 158 Years Of Beautiful Sex
17 Universal Nurse Finger
18 Sadness To The End
19 Reptilian Beauty Secrets
20 Long As The Block Is Black
21 Jellyfish Reflector
22 The Kite Surfer
23 Girl From The Sun
24 The Candyland Riots

* - Another version will likely make the playlist

Tonics And Twisted Chasers at Rockathon


Spoony said...

Hi Dave,

Just stumbled on your site - great work! Surprised though that you don't rate Look it's Baseball off this album! One of my favourites...also probably prefer this version of Key Losers.



Anonymous said...

I haven't fallen in love with this one yet, but then I've only heard it three times because it was hard to find.

On my original list I had some stuff from other sources though: The live 7" Dayton, the EP Key Losers, the Suitcase Ha Ha Man and the longer Block credited to Pollard from a comp.

I have recently added Is She Ever, At The Farms, Unbaited Vicar, Optional Bases and Candyland Riots to that list.

As with the Airport 5 records, there are few tracks I don't enjoy, but as wholes they could use some more variation, tempo wise. Having said that, I think the Jellyfish sticks out like a sore thumb here.