Guided by Voices
Human Amusements at Hourly Rates


4.5
superb

Review

by J. Ponton EMERITUS
August 26th, 2010 | 35 replies


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The greatest best-of compilation ever? Maybe

Guided By Voices are just one of those groups that can be rightfully called one of the best and one of the worst bands of all time. It’s easy to see how Robert Pollard and his Voices fit in so well with the other beautiful–uglies, just by a quick glance at their varied and extensive discography. Take a classic like their b-side-originated Bee Thousand, and you have an album that fits alongside the best work that any non-genre-specific music artist has to offer, past or present. Conversely, take something like 1999’s Do The Collapse, and you have one of the worst albums ever: When Voices hit it in their career together, they nailed it with 100% accuracy; when Voices missed it, well, they fell flat on their faces.

As you might gather, Voices had a hit-and-miss career, where the output of the mid-90s was arguably their strongest, with falling-outs coming before and after that specific time period. Though, this is not to say that these other albums – primarily those that are not called Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under The Bushes Under The Stars – didn’t have some of song-breeder Robert Pollard’s best indie rock nuggets; it’s just to say that these releases, and there are a lot of them, had some of the band’s worst material popping up on their tracklisting, far too often. An unfortunate career maybe for the Voices, but it is indeed one that lends itself to being very compatible for the harvesting of the band’s best material for a best-of compilation: Cue to 2003’s Human Amusements at Hourly Rates.

Now, this compilation could have been released in one of two ways: (1) Where Voices’ sprawling but compact Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes albums would have essentially been combined and shuffled together or, as it is here on Hourly Rates, (2) a sampling of their greatest indie rock material could have been taken from their whole discography and placed together in such a way that it would feel like a classic Voices album. Either way, you would run into the problem where you would inevitably be missing out on something awesome from Voices’ catalogue of great songs – there’s just too many of them, and while the second option is certainly an overall superb collection that flows through its thirty-three play count seamlessly, you have to come to terms with the fact that a Voices best-of compilation really needs to be about eighty songs in length to do the band any sort of justice.

But that’s the only complaint one could fathom for Hourly Rates. Seriously. This is one hell of a best-of compilation. To touch on an earlier point, “Things I Will Keep” is arguably one of the best cuts here, which is saying a lot, but it is also taken from the terrible Do The Collapse album, one in which Pollard was at his most polar, songwriting-wise. Likewise, the bass-led “The Best of Hill Jives” is a standout with the quick delivery of its classic Pollard melody, but it also comes from another Voices album that often remains forgotten, 2003’s Earthquake Glue. You’ll find as you listen to Hourly Rates, and especially if you are already a fan of the band’s more well-known albums, that you will begin to form an intense appreciation and gratitude for this release that you wouldn’t necessarily feel for most best-of compilations: It makes you want to re-visit, or check out for the first time, those lesser albums for more hidden gems.

An early cut taken from Voices’ more lo-fi beginnings, “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” bathes in naked production and campfire acoustic, sing-along vibes that wholly represent what makes Voices so appealing, even at their barest: It’s all simple indie rock, often making no sense lyrically, but remaining profound and damn catchy all the same. That opening strum of acoustic guitar chords in “Tractor Rape Chain”, or the way Pollard drags the words of his melody in “Surgical Focus”, are the instances that will be planted in your mind on your first time through this, and it’s these same moments that will hit you like a lo-fi-indie brick as the repeated listens continue to come: They call this subtle music, but really, when you consider many-a-night with albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes playing in an endless cycle, it’s anything but that. These guys have you from the beginning, as they plant their seeds and then later reap their crops; Hourly Rates is another prime example of how they do this so well, even if it’s merely a best-of compilation

So, yeah, of course you’re missing out on a lot if Hourly Rates is the only thing by Voices that you check out – this isn’t a band like The Goo Goo Dolls or Snow Patrol where a best-of compilation is really all that anyone needs of their discography to get by. But in its favor, however, Hourly Rates acts as that jump-start for you to dive into more of Voices’ discography, that incentive, whether you’re a fan of their classic albums or haven’t even heard of them. Allow the collection a couple of listens either way, though, because Pollard and his boys need a planting period in order to put the hooks of their quirky indie rock songs into your head. On that second or third listen through - Voices will have you. Trust me: it happened to me; it happened to those hipsters; and it will happen to you. There’s really no better place to start than this, other than their classic albums, which, to be honest, for a release like this is rather surprising. Hourly Rates is that rare best-of compilation that is absolutely essential for the fans to check out.



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user ratings (12)
Chart.
4.4
superb
other reviews of this album
robin EMERITUS (3.5)
While the 'blindy pick an album' rule still applies for Guided By Voices, this collection efficientl...


Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 26th 2010


15035 Comments


love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love
love love love love love love love love love love love love

edit: wtf do the collapse has teenage fbi things i will keep and FUCKING SURGICAL FOCUS

Ponton
Emeritus
August 26th 2010


5793 Comments


i usually don't rate best-of albums, or even really bother checking them out but

this is essential, even if you already know a lot of the tracks

thanks

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 26th 2010


15035 Comments


chasing heather crazy is like the catchiest song just ever

WeepingBanana
August 26th 2010


10142 Comments


these guys are so awesome. i heard somewhere that robert pollard would write like 30 something songs a day but only kept 2 or 3 good ones. to me that's a very interesting approach to writing

Romulus
August 26th 2010


8434 Comments


Awesome review, obviously awesome band, I only disagree with how you described Do the Collapse-- it's pretty mediocre but far from the worst album of all time

Ponton
Emeritus
August 26th 2010


5793 Comments


right, and I said it's among the worst, but the main purpose of that was just to show the stark bi-polar quality of the groups material, really good versus really bad, or at least bad to me on the latter

thanks rom, you heard this?

Romulus
August 26th 2010


8434 Comments


Nah I always figured I'd get to it after I got through all of GBV's catalogue and maybe checked out some of Pollard's stuff but this definitely makes it more appealing.

I pos'd btw I don't want you thinking I neg'd for one opinion about an album

Ponton
Emeritus
August 26th 2010


5793 Comments


nah, never suspected that you did.

I've tried some of pollards stuff too, but only two of his albums are really worth looking into for me. He's a lot more inconsistent than gbv

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 26th 2010


15035 Comments


i got crickets: best of the fading captain series (mostly pollard solo stuff) and quite like it

Romulus
August 26th 2010


8434 Comments


Yeah it'll take me a while before I listen to any of his solo stuff. I'd consider GBV one of my favorite bands but i've still only heard about 6 or 7 of their albums. I think Propeller is next on my to-get list.



Ponton
Emeritus
August 27th 2010


5793 Comments


anybody check out circus devils? i know its another project he's in and ive read some pretty good things about it

robin
Emeritus
August 27th 2010


4248 Comments


this is a good compilation, but you should use it to dig deeper into the discog it's based on. any of the stuff on these records could go onto this compilation.

but i love you jared so =) also your reviews are so awesome lately

circus devils are poor, not as bad as boston spaceships.

Ponton
Emeritus
August 27th 2010


5793 Comments


thanks robin, and i don't know about any of the stuff, but then again im not a big as fan of gbv as you are (and you have been one for a longer time too). But i agree that it encourages people to dig deeper into their discog though

The songs they have here work really well imo, because of how they're placed together, mixing the new and the old stuff, and still having the thing sound natural in the end is a big selling point. most best-ofs really seem to have a hard time doing that

robin
Emeritus
August 27th 2010


4248 Comments


i agree with you completely jared, although for me its one of those records where, once youve dipped into their entire discography, you don't look back. it's a starter album more than an essential for already-adoring fans. and the fact that all these songs are quite flat sounding gbv songs in a way doesn't help, i.e. the 3 track run of under the bushes/stars. itd just be nice for them to keep it kooky, like how they nearly do by putting on "hit".

best of records for me are only essential if you cant delve into every album of a band willingly, and for gbv that isn't the case for me.

im not sure if its out of bad timing or just robert pollard's ignorance, but their biggest commercial success ('hold on hope') is ommited from this record, which is really weird. a couple of great things about having this record though - a toned up version of i am a scientist obvs, and a far better version of teenage fbi to the album version. the version on do the collapse is absolutely horrible.

but yeah, i just recommend you check out stuff like same place the fly got smashed because there are songs on there i wouldn't leave out here, like "how loft am i?" etc. but i love pretty much everything theyve done so thats just me being silly.

also, no tracks from half smiles because it succeeds this album - sad times.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 27th 2010


15035 Comments


the best non-gbv robert pollard song ive heard is sensational gravity boy by freedom cruise

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 27th 2010


15035 Comments


http://extrakings.tumblr.com/post/866920752/trapandtrace-i-thought-id-post-this-since-gbv


fyi

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 27th 2010


15035 Comments


learning to hunt is so amazing

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2010


15035 Comments


SURGICAL FOCUS

kevtherev
September 16th 2010


20 Comments


quad post

Ponton
Emeritus
April 17th 2011


5793 Comments


this band sounds like home



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