Review Summary: Read on...Guided by Voices
, at the stage of recording Alien Lanes, are:
Mitch Mitchell (Not the guy from the Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Even just looking at the artist section for Guided by Voices
on this site you can tell they pretty much went under the radar, which, if you are in with the indie crowd, is a huge shame. Beating Pavement
in releasing the arguably the first lo-fi indie rock album, Guided by Voices became known for their short, catchy indie songs, which eventually got them noticed in 1994 with Bee Thousand, despite doing what they were doing for eleven years. Alien Lanes comes one year after Bee Thousand, and their audience had increased largely since the latter’s release, which would have been a lot of pressure for Pollard and friends, as now they knew that many people would be listening. I confess, I cannot make comparisons between the two albums, as I don’t own Bee Thousand at this present time, but I believe this is a good thing, and keeps my review unbiased (unlike the All Music Guide review of this).
Speaking of bias, this album rules. It was the first Guided by Voices album I bought, and I wasn’t sure what it would sound like. I figured that with 28 tracks, there would have to be a lot of throwaways. But amazingly, there was only one bad track in the bunch (which is subtitled as a throwaway in the liner notes anyway). The reason for the lack of bad songs is due to the length of them. Imagine if there were 28 songs on the album that went for three minutes or so. Now imagine that the best bits of each song are trimmed from those songs, to create much shorter, but better songs (i.e., no bits that ruin it). This is what I believe is the magic of this album, and indeed the career of Guided by Voices.
Alien Lanes starts with A Salty Salute, which seems to be an appropriate name for the first track, which ends with the words “the club is open”, and fades out. Then it jumps right into the next song: no intro or anything, Pollard starts singing straight away. After listening to the CD for a bit, you realise that this trend follows through the whole album. The album is a bit like a parade, the songs like floats. Each song streams by quickly, is enjoyable, then quickly another one comes. Almost every song on this album just starts with no warning. There is one song that does not follow this tread, Watch me Jumpstart, though it is oddly the best song on here. It breaks all the trends of the album. It has an intro (albeit a short one), a proper structure that repeats itself, it is just shy of 2:30 and it doesn’t sound as low fi as the other songs on the album. Music wise, the album has relatively simple guitar parts, which are often just guitar chords, with no lead guitar. The songs are either repetitive, or continuous, but most songs have very little structure, seeming as if they were being made up on the spot.
One of the most surprising things about the album, is that on some songs, Pollard’s vocals are very Beatles-esque, which when accompanied by simple acoustic chords and jumpy bass lines, can sound uncannily like early Beatles songs.
Alien Lanes is a very hard album to review, as once I have described one song, I’ve pretty much described all of them. They are all catchy, they are all accompanied by generally simple guitar parts, they all have cryptic and witty lyrics and each song is if it were just important as the last. Even the shortest songs draw the same attention to them as the longer ones. Playing this album from beginning to end is a fantastic listening experience, and I never feel like I have to skip a song. If you like Sebadoh, Pavement, Pixies or any other indie rock of the late 80’s and early 90’s, buy this album, I can guarantee you will like it. If I had the time, I’d review every track, as Pollard has a way of making every song feel like it counts, and on Alien Lanes, they truly do.
Watch Me Jumpstart
As We Go Up, We Go Down
Game of Pricks
Closer you Are
My Valuable Hunting Knife
Striped White Jets
Blimps Go 90
My Son Cool