Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guided by Voices..."Mag Earwhig!"

bob pollard & co. at its finest...

i'm definitely a populist in terms of "bee thousand," as it remains one of my favorite musical documents, but people tend to gravitate around the "era" encapsulating "propeller," "bee thousand," "alien lanes" and "under the bushes under the stars." guided by voices are typically derided (pollard in particular) as being unable to maintain a kind of quality control, but i'm nearing asceticism in my devotion and belief in the near majority of their catalogue. i love the earlier, ramshackle and lo-fidelity efforts as much as anyone (especially overlooked marvels such as "same place the fly got smashed," "sunfish holy breakfast" and "vampire on titus"), but the summary dismissal of the latter half of gbv's existence is inexcusable to me. the hip opinion is to chastize and inveigh against the band for its reliance on the hiss and murky distractions of limited recording devices, the lo-fi aesthetic, etc., but people overlook that what qualifies as "lo-fi" wasn't a luxury or affectation as it is currently. a band like guided by voices was driven and populated by people in their mid-30s who couldn't afford session time and preferred to do it themselves, rather nobly. their songs and ineluctable charm are not dependent on methods of production - a good song remains a good song. after disbanding gbv's "classic" line-up (a misnomer, horribly, since something like 50 people at any point played with the band) pollard recruited more conscientious and "professional" players. however outrageous people may have found this, the results are beyond this kind of record store banter bullshit.

"mag earwhig!" is beset with only 3 flaws - all of them forgivable, all of them occuring within the first 5 songs. those faults are - noticeably - "can't hear the revolution," "i am a tree" and the increasingly putrid "bulldog skin." aside from that, however, this record is phenomenal, at times reaching far beyond "under the bushes under the stars." "jane of the waking universe," "little lines," "sad if i lost it," "i am produced," "portable men's society," "not behind the fighter jet," "choking tara" and the chokingly-dense, apocalyptic "the finest joke is upon us" - my favorite on the album - alight in a kind of starburst grove, registering a level of intensity rarely reached on previous releases. the two successive albums - "do the collapse" and "isolation drills" - are far more uneven and tenuous, though still retaining a stunning amount of great songs (the former nowhere near as unlistenable as is often claimed). they regained their balance on their triumvirate of final releases, "universal truths and cycles," "earthquake glue" and "half-smiles of the decomposed," all of which permit the band to bow out gracefully (leaving - in my mind - a nearly unblemished discography).

download "mag earwhig!" by guided by voices:

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