Guided by Voices – Alien Lanes
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2012
I feel like I’ve already written about this album on this blog. I mean, do I really need to express how I feel about Alien Lanes? It’s like one of my built in personality traits. Ian is tallish, shy, and Guided by Voices. No even loves Guided by Voices. It’s just there. In my blood and stuff. I’m one of those people. If you ask me to make you a mix CD I’ll make you three, and then outline why the way I’ve ordered the songs is optimal for your listening experience. “The later stuff is full of great pop hooks, but it gets very hit or miss in the absence of Tobin Sprout who really kept Bob Pollard in check on those great albums. The holy trinity, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars.” The thing about GBV is that they so warrant obsession. It’s like perfect tornado conditions or something. A massive discography (Pollard apparently has over 1,000 songs registered in his name with BMI) that you can only do your best to listen to all of, great songs buried on albums laced with tape hiss and cast offs barely worth the magnetic strip they’re occupying but they’re there anyway. It’s so pure and unfiltered, and seeing the bad songs helps you appreciate the great ones that much more. It’s like the whole process of the band is documented from day one. Like there wasn’t a single idea they didn’t record. Sure, it makes for some hit or miss, but good lord the hits are some of the most potent pop songs of all time. Maybe that’s overexaggerating, or is it? I mean, I think Guided By Voices are better than the Beatles, but that’s just me. The Stones? Please. Pollard and Sprout over Jagger and Richards any fucking day. Especially with the classic line-up.
Alien Lanes is just as good as Bee Thousand, if not better. I don’t subscribe to one being superior, but the parallel theory. That some sort of metaphysical anomaly occurred in Dayton, OH in 1994-1995 that changed the game. The thing about Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes is how far superior they are to every other record in GBV’s discography. They are perfect. There are fillery songs, but they’re there to accent the real cream. Just look at how “(I Wanna Be a) Dumbcharger” brings you into a brown haze and then that beautiful bring A power chord hits and you’re suddenly in the most perfect minute and thirty-three seconds of your life. “Game of Pricks.” I didn’t even have to look up the running time, that’s the kind of GBV obsessive I am. And the thing is, ALL GBV obsessives are like this. It’s cultish, really, but I think that’s the point.
I know I said that Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes are parallel, but I should clarify one thing: Bee Thousand is the better album (sequencing, clarity of vision, etc) whereas Alien Lanes has better songs. Surefire hits like “A Good Flying Bird,” “Game of Pricks” (easily the crown jewel of GBV’s expansive (understatement) discography), “As We Go Up We Go Down,” “Blimps Go 90,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Motor Away” and under the radar stunners like “King and Caroline,” “Ex-Supermodel,” “Alright,” and that magnificent drinking anthem opener “A Salty Salute.” The hits are just so much hotter on Alien Lanes. And the thing is, all the best songs are under two minutes long. That’s a beautiful tactical manouever if there ever was one. Crafting these glorious hooks, playing them out JUST long enough and never banking in repeating the chorus for five minutes like modern pop music. It leaves you wanting more. Makes the songs practically infinitely repeatable. I’m not much of an American. Not really. But Guided by Voices is one of those things that reminds me that America has the potential to be absolutely great. I mean, we produced the greatest band of all time, didn’t we? Look at those American Flag chucks Pollard is wearing on the back of the sleeve! That’s America right there! These five schulbby dudes hanging out in a cluttered basement, either before or after or during the process of making an unfuckwithable masterpiece. It’s not even something that can be argued. I’m a pretty even-handed dude, always willing to see things from someone else’s point of view and to quick to admit I’m wrong when I’m wrong. However, if you dismiss Guided by Voices, I will probably think less of you. I don’t want to be this way, but I can’t help it. Maybe that’s hyperbole, I won’t think less of you, I just won’t understand you. I know it tanked at least one potential relationship in college when I found out this girl “just didn’t really get why this band was supposed to be so great.” I tried to show her the way, I made like two mix CDs and wrote out a listening guide but after that, I knew it was toast. Maybe that just helped me realize that the compatibility issues were deeper than I could see because I just wanted a girlfriend. Jenny loved Guided by Voices though, and when we got married, she knew she was marrying my obsession and was OK with that and downright supportive. She came with me to see them in Minneapolis on the Classic Line-Up tour and thought it was awesome. I think that’s when I realized I was going to propose to her as soon as I had enough cash to buy a ring. It seems downright baseless to judge someone because they don’t like some silly band, but to me GBV ISN’T just a silly band. It’s my favorite band, something I’ve spent the last eight years internalizing and to hear a dismissal of the band to my face is like a personal insult. There’s something about a bunch of dudes in their 30s getting together and deciding to be rock stars. Not with lofty ambitions (ok, Pollard maybe), but just for their own personal wellbeing. For fun. Dudes with families and day jobs and mortgages. That’s the human spirit right there, and I want to live my life like that. To just say fuck it, let’s get drunk and record music in the garage.