Friday, September 6, 2013

Gem - "Sheep" 7"

Gem – “Sheep” 7”
Carcrashh, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
I purchased this 7” specifically because the sleeve featured still photographs from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, which is my absolute favorite film of all time. The music is pretty standard mid-90s indie rock. A-Side “Sheep” adopts a fast-paced power-pop angle and goes on a bit too long. B-Side “Smiling All the While” has a jangly, down-tempo vibe and is the real winner on this 7”. Assuming it’s a battle, as each song was written by a different guy. This would be a fairly commonplace 7” if it weren’t for the fact that Gem was comprised of Tim Tobias and Doug Gillard. Both Tobias and Gillard were instrumental in the last phase of Guided by Voices, and I won’t lie, when I saw “Written by D. Gillard” and “Written by T. Tobias” I kind of flipped. Just a little bit. While the latter GBV records aren’t my favorite and got a little too slick for my liking (note: I always give these records a pass because I feel like it was always Bob Pollard’s dream to be in a big, slick rock n’ roll band and these guys helped him achieve that). Still, both of these guys are players in my absolute favorite band of all time so this Gem warrant a bit of special attention.

Doug Gillard played lead guitar in GBV from Mag Earwhig! to Half Smiles of the Decomposed and is best known for writing Mag Earwhig!’s “I am a Tree.” It’s one of the few non-Pollard tracks not written by Tobin Spout to pop up on a GBV release, and you can tell because it’s totally uncharacteristic. For starters, the damn thing is about twice as long as it needs to be. It’s repetitive and it’s boring. Strangely, I hear this song on KJHK all the time. I’m pretty sure if a DJ is unfamiliar with the sacred discography of Dayton, Ohio’s Finest, they just grab this one and I’m sure the review says “PLAY ‘I AM A TREE.’” Gem actually recorded their own version of the track in 1997. Come to think of it, the Doug Gillard song on this 7” is about twice as long as it needs to be and repetitive and boring! GO FIGURE! For all of my knocks against Gillard, he is a talented guitarist and I’ve always been partial to the guitar work on Isolation Drills, easily the best GBV record from the latter period. Gillard is a bit of a journeyman indie rocker. In addition to Gem and GBV, he played with Cobra Verde (natch, considering Cobra Verde basically became Bob Pollard’s backing band from Mag Earwhig! up til the (first) bitter end (until GBV rose like the mighty phoenix once more)), Lifeguards (one of Bob Pollard’s myriad side projects) and played drums and guitar with My Dad is Dead they moved to Chapel Hill in addition to putting out a slew of albums under his own name. He ended up being exactly the kind of lead guitarist that could help Bob Pollard fulfill his rockstar fantasies.

Tim Tobias played bass with GBV from Isolation Drills through Earthquake Glue. His brother Todd served as Gem’s bassist and is another frequent Pollard collaborator. Both Tobias brothers play in Circus Devils, which is another one of the Pollard’s myriad on-going side projects he has to strike up just to deal with the sheer volume of his songwriting. Todd is also Bobby P’s primary knob turner and in addition to producing most of his solo albums (if not all) produced the last three GBV records (before the classic line-up reunion). Though Tim is the least prolific of all Gem’s members, that bass line on GBV’s “TheBest of Jill Hives” is unforgettable. I am endlessly fascinated with the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” qualities of 90s bands. The way certain guys move around like car parts. GBV wasn’t always the most well oiled machine, but goddamn if it didn’t keep running without breaking down too much.

Once again, the excellent blog Wilfully Obscure has MP3s. 

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