In the Wilderness: Guided by Voices, 1997-2004

In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness is a feature in which a group of Strange Currencies contributors examine an overlooked period of an artist’s career. While originally intended as a podcast, “social distancing” has necessitated a different approach. For the time being, In the Wilderness has taken shape in the form of a “Slack chat.”

For this week’s installment of In the Wilderness, I am joined again by J. Long and George Budney. This time out, we’ll be talking about Guided by Voices – the Dayton, Ohio-based recording project of fourth grade teacher Robert Pollard, that would became an indie rock institution with its classic run of albums from 1992’s Propeller to 1996’s Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.

Guided by Voices – or “GBV” to fans – had a constantly evolving lineup, with Pollard remaining the sole permanent member of the group. While the “classic lineup” from 1992-1996 was something of a misnomer, the contributions of collaborators like Mitch Mitchell (guitar), Kevin Fennell (drums), Greg Demos (bass), and Tobin Sprout (guitar/vocals) – who also wrote several of the band’s most beloved songs – were integral in making Bee Thousand (1994) and Alien Lanes (1995) two of the most revered albums in the American indie rock canon. However, by the release of 1997’s Mag Earwhig!, those collaborators had all exited the scene, and Pollard had formed an entirely new version of Guided by Voices.

The records that GBV released from 1997 through their initial breakup in 2004 found Pollard’s songwriting remaining sharp and hook-filled, but they also saw the group moving away from the homespun “lo-fi” charm of their self-produced classics from the mid-nineties. Critical and fan reactions to these six records were somewhat mixed, but only the staunchest Pollard skeptic could deny that even the most listless GBV album harbored at least a few gems. Here are some of our thoughts on those records:

MR: Okay, I have a good one to determine who gets first pick in the draft. Fill in the blank on the following Bob Pollard quote: “If the person beside you ever bought a ___________ album, punch him in the face!”

JL: Counting Crows?

MR: Yep.

GB: Couldn’t think of it fast enough. Well done, sir.

JL: First time I saw GBV, they made it clear they didn’t care for Weezer either. Or, Bob did, I guess.

GB: A man ahead of his time.

MR: At one point in his biography [Closer You Are, by Matthew Cutter], someone is quoted, in reference to Pollard: “never meet your idols.” I feel that way after reading the book these past few days.

GB: I thought about picking it up, but on that endorsement… The only person that probably doesn’t apply to is Mike Watt.

MR: No, you should. It’s pretty good. He’s just like you’d expect him to be, though.

JL: Pollard had a rep for being pretty cool to hang out with, c. 1997 or so. Seemed like there were lots of tales of him being a fun, cool dude.

GB: I imagine there is a fair amount of Keith Moon in Pollard, despite his love for Pete Townshend.

MR: Yeah. He’s hilarious. I’d still be down to hang with him, but at some point, I’m certain that I’d inadvertently piss him off.

JL: I’ll find an Adam Duritz wig. Any particularly gnarly mop head should work.

GB: What’s the deal with him being a teacher? Junior high?

MR: He bounced around a bit, but was teaching 4th grade when the band broke.

GB: And he gave it up, or kept teaching?

MR: He gave up around the time that GBV signed to Matador (1995). The thing that really prompted me to read the book this week was wanting to get a bit more insight into what led to the dismissal of the “classic lineup,” which is what really starts this “wilderness” era. I’ve always heard that they were fired, but it’s way more complicated than that.

JL: I should read it.

MR: Yeah, you guys would both like it. I think it’s pretty fair to all involved. According to the book, the exits of the “classic era” members was kind of like a Willy Wonka situation. They all had various reasons for their departure. It wasn’t a “you’re all gone, I’m hiring pros” thing, as I’ve seen it portrayed elsewhere.

GB: One of them turned into a giant blueberry…

MR: Yeah, that was Greg Demos.

JL: Tobin Sprout blossomed into Plantman.

MR: Demos left because he became a lawyer at around the same time that the band broke. Tobin Sprout left – despite Bob begging him to stay – to stay home with his family. Kevin Fennell had a backslide into really bad substance abuse.

GB: Alcohol, or worse?

MR: A bit of everything, it sounds like. Mitch Mitchell was a little more complicated. Bob wanted him to stick around, but as a bass player, which he saw as a demotion from guitar; not wrong there. Basically, the band was a constant revolving door. It just meant more once people had actually started paying attention. The so-called “classic lineup” only played 17 shows together, before the [2010-2014] reunion.

GB: So, the breakups all took place after Alien Lanes?

MR: Around that time. They toured together at that time, but some guys were already on their way out. I was particularly interested in the Pollard/Sprout dynamic. I’ve always enjoyed Sprout’s songs, and he seems to really bring out the best in Pollard’s writing. I feel like that is what this era is missing.

GB: So how would you define the actual start of the wilderness? Was it the evolving lineup, or do you define it by one person (Tobin Sprout) leaving? That dynamic that was there for Propeller, Bee Thousand, and Alien Lanes. Would you define them as a different band then, even though they kept the GBV name? Basically a Pollard project?

MR: Well, Mag Earwhig! was a bit of a hybrid. There are some tracks with the old guys, and then some that were recorded in a real studio with Cobra Verde, who essentially became his backing band for the tour. Only Doug Gillard stuck around for long.

JL: I bristle at the thought of calling it anything other than GBV. He’s already got enough pseudonyms. I think Pollard/Gillard are the basis of ESP Ohio.

MR: Yeah, there are an ungodly amount of side projects. I counted somewhere around 130 “official” GBV releases (albums, singles, EPs, comps). I don’t even want to know how many in total are part of the extended family. The book – and a lot of other places – tend to look at Bee ThousandAlien Lanes, and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars as the great GBV trio. Those were more or less the “classic lineup” era.

Mag Earwhig!, LP (1997)

MR: Might as well talk about Mag Earwhig!

JL: It’s a great one. I really enjoy this album. Probably the second one in this era that I got.

MR: This and Isolation Drills were the first ones I got. Got them from J. in 2003.

GB: I can’t remember getting it, specifically. One of those that feels like it’s always been there.

MR: There were a lot of people who were put off by the newfound cleanliness, but this album kicks ass.

GB: It does. I had it for a while, but it was overshadowed by its precursors. Took me a while to “discover” it. It’s aged really well.

JL: When I was first looking to move from a crappy apartment to a less crappy house, this was always in the car, driving around weird unfamiliar parts of town.

MR: I’ve probably told you this before, but three of these albums are “Tucson albums” to me. Lot of good memories driving around listening to those ones.

GB: That is a great way to describe them.

MR: It’s weird, but if you line these albums up 1-6, I really love all of the “odd numbered” ones and am somewhat lukewarm to the “evens.”

JL: They say similar things about Star Trek movies and Microsoft Windows releases.

MR: Earwhig was a really good introduction for me. I got Bee Thousand about four months later – and loved it immediately – but I think hearing something more accessible first helped prime me for it.

GB: Accessible is the right word. It can get surprisingly complicated for having short songs with good hooks. I feel like the first three tracks are really strong.

MR: What are the highlights?

GB: “I Am a Tree.”

MR: That’s a Gillard song. Only one, as far as I’m aware.

GB: “Portable Men’s Society.” Shades of heavier/longer stuff on the later albums.

MR: Yeah, “Portable” is cool. It’s got a proggy sound to it.

JL: I always imagined “Can’t Hear the Revolution” as some kind of meta-commentary on the lo-fi “movement” in general, although that was probably just younger me thinking I was clever.

MR: Seems plausible.

GB: He has a habit of writing really good, poppy, love songs – like “Jane of the Waking Universe” – that somehow aren’t quite love songs.

JL: Yeah, “Jane” is a favorite for me too. In addition to those previously mentioned.

MR: I’ve always really liked “Sad If I Lost It.” I actually bought a maroon corduroy blazer because of that song. It’s too big though. Need to have it tailored… I’ve been saying that for 8-9 years.

JL: Drink like Pollard, it’ll fit soon enough.

MR: Good point. I like the back-to-back of “Little Lines” and “Learning to Hunt.” I’ve always thought that was a good demonstration of both sides of Pollard.

GB: I like “Learning to Hunt” Pollard, but “Little Lines” is more fun. “Little Lines” is who you want to hang out with.

JL: I sometimes have to remind myself there are more slow tempos than I’m prone to remember at first.

MR: Yeah, but he does them pretty well. I’ll agree with George though, in that upbeat Pollard is best. That’s pretty obvious, I suppose.

GB: It’s the best GBV feel. 

JL: To this day, I’m not always 100% on the song titles because of that weird hollow typeface on the back of the CD. I mean, for the most part, you can figure it out, but…

MR: I still don’t have a physical copy, so I’ll have to take your word. Gonna have to buy it on vinyl.

GB: Can we talk about the album cover? Of all the bands, GBV covers leave me the most unsettled, because they’re somewhere between expressionist art and, well, Pollard randomness. And this one is the worst for interpretation.

JL: It’s hair.

MR: I like it. Probably my favorite of the six we’re covering today.

GB: I don’t know what to think of them.

MR: I think that’s the point. Maybe…

GB: I like them. I guess that’s enough.

MR: Pollard seems to pride himself on his visual art. You’ve probably both heard this before, but for years before he had an actual band, he just made hundreds of album covers for fake bands. The kind of music that he “wanted to hear.”

GB: I’ve done shit like that. Completely relatable.

Do the Collapse, LP (1999)

MR: So, after Earwhig, the band signed to TVT and hooked up with Ric Ocasek for Do the Collapse. This one certainly received a mixed reception.

JL: And that’s the first full-length I ever owned.

GB: It was the first proper GBV album I bought and didn’t copy from you guys – “The Nice Price” at Hoodlums.

JL: Honestly, I needed to hear about 45 seconds of “Teenage FBI” and I was in.

GB: Oh, absolutely.

MR: I think it’s the one song where the Ocasek production is noticeable, but really works well.

JL: It was this album, plus Possum Dixon’s 1998 album New Sheets, that made me realize how heavy Ocasek’s signature could be.

GB: Is this where Pollard’s dislike of Weezer came in? Also, I can hear The Cars now that you mention Ocasek.

MR: Maybe. It’s where his dislike of TVT started to come in. So, there’s a song on this album that Pollard absolutely hates. Guess which one?

GB: “Hold on Hope.” Because I really don’t like it either.

MR: That’s the one.

GB: It’s all the worse because the surrounding songs are totally GBV. It’s just so badly placed. So not the band.

MR: He had a big falling out with the label after they insisted on remixing it for a single. They spent like $20,000 paying an engineer for another mix, which Pollard hated even more.

GB: “Human amusement at hourly rates” is a GBV line. “Everybody’s got a hold on hope” is not. I don’t look to the band for that. It’s not terrible – but it’s not their core competency.

MR: It’s definitely not his typical style. I don’t hate it, but it’s not a favorite.

JL: I like it for what it is. I’ve never heard Pollard badmouth it directly, but I’ve heard him shrug and say he didn’t think it was his best work – that it was a bit maudlin for his tastes. These are not his exact words. I’m paraphrasing.

MR: In the bio, he’s quoted as calling it the worst song he’s ever written – or something to that effect – but that seems like a bit of posturing.

JL: The song was placed in an episode of a popular TV show [Scrubs]. Hopefully it made him rich. Only way to make money from a song these days.

GB: It feels like a reach, and like they’re not into it. Meanwhile, “Surgical Focus.”

JL: Come to think of it, “Surgical Focus” should have been placed in a medical drama.

MR: What else stands out on this album? I’ve found that a lot of these songs have never really sunk in for me. Typically Pollard songs are earworms, but a lot of these just never stuck with me.

GB: Wonder if it’s because I bought it and felt obligated to get more into it. What stands out to you?

MR: Definitely “Teenage FBI.” I like “Things I Will Keep” and “Surgical Focus” enough, but those were both on Human Amusements at Hourly Rates [GBV’s 2003 “best of” compilation], so I heard them a lot.

JL: “Things I Will Keep” is pretty great, and a standout on this disc. I should have remembered that one quicker. I like “Liquid Indian,” even if I have to turn off the part of my brain that processes words.

MR: You mean like, “I’m a born-again boot-stomping witch humper”?

GB: “Liquid Indian” always reminds me of you J., because all I can think of is sitting in your old condo trying to fall asleep to it while the Christmas lights cycled through all their colors. Did you own a lamp, or was it solely Xmas lights?

JL: Just a shitload of witch-humpin’ Xmas lights.

GB: Forgot about “Wrecking Now” – another Pollard love song. I actually really like this album. 

MR: By the time I got to this album there was a sense that it was the one that I “wasn’t supposed to like.” J., do you remember “Bastard Man”? I was still relatively early in my GBV discovery at the time – a year or so – but I was looking through his CD collection once. I saw Do the Collapse, and asked him about GBV. He said, “yeah, I like them, but that’s the only one I have heard.” I told him that it was like judging The Beatles by a Ringo solo album.

JL: I remember you telling me that. I tried to justify it by pointing out that for a while, it was the only one I had ever heard either.

GB: It’s not bad overall. There are some missteps, for sure.

MR: It wasn’t a fair comparison, but I was fully obsessed with Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand at that point – both of which were really new to me. Listening to it again this week, I feel like it’s better than its reputation at the time. The book talked about how people have “come around” to it. I can see that.

Isolation Drills, LP (2001)

MR: Okay, Isolation Drills. Either of you know what the title refers to?

JL: I’m at a loss.

GB: Pollard was a football coach at one point, along with another teacher – Pete Jamison – who eventually became GBV’s “manager for life.” They developed drills that focused on “micro” elements of the game that they referred to as “Isolation Drills.”

GB: Never pegged Pollard for a football coach. But then again, I have the Pollard no-hitter shirt. It’s one of my favorite concert shirts.

JL: Sometimes, briefly, I forget what jocks some of these dudes were.

MR: He was also a standout basketball player. So was his brother Jim, who was in/out of GBV for years. Apparently, Jim owned most every high school basketball record in Ohio, and could’ve gone pro, if not for an injury in college.

JL: I remember some girl came into the shithole bar I used to work at, wearing that shirt. She looked young but I didn’t even card her. Figured, if she’s old enough to get the reference…. She loaded up the jukebox with all the weirdest tracks on Paul’s Boutique.

MR: Seems reasonable. Sounds like you made a good choice. Okay, I think this is the album that Do the Collapse maybe should have been.

JL: Yeah, it’s a step up.

MR: Not only a better album, but a much more “natural GBV” sound. It’s definitely polished, but in a way that suits them well. Just some excellent songs on this one.

GB: Yes, the odd numbers in effect. The flow is so much easier, more accessible that Collapse.

MR: Pollard once said that if “Glad Girls” wasn’t going to be a hit, then he couldn’t write a hit. But maybe, a couple of years earlier? 

GB: Yeah, mid-90s.

MR: And that’s probably my fourth favorite song on this album. I think “Fair Touching,” “Chasing Heather Crazy,” and “Twilight Campfighter” are all excellent.

GB: Agreed.

JL: We already talked about slow GBV vs. fast GBV, and I gotta say, they’re at the top of their slow game here. I was going to cite “Twilight Campfighter” as an example of prime slow GBV. 

MR: I really don’t want every article on this site to turn into an R.E.M. conversation, but there’s a lot of Peter Buck-sounding guitar on this album.

JL: Yeah, I can hear it.

MR: This is just some good rock and roll music. Loud. Melodic. Smart. What else do you need, right? Any other standouts?

JL: “Run Wild” is also good.

MR: Yeah. I like “Unspirited,” but it’s cheating, since it has a Mellotron. “The Brides Have Hit Glass” is also really good.

JL: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. The slower tracks on this one are really strong. I guess that one isn’t particularly slow, but still.

MR: I think – for most people, not weirdos like us – this is probably the most “sellable” GBV album. Not that it would’ve led to a good career trajectory, but remember how the second half of the 90s was just littered with all of those one-off hit songs? There are two or three songs on this album that could’ve been everywhere for a few months. But yeah, probably a few years too late to really fit the moment.

JL: The CD art is great. Huge ass foldout digipak.

GB: I remember being impressed with that packaging and feeling “cool” when I bought it, like I was in the know. I’m also an aerospace engineer, and that cover is like shooting fish in a barrel.

JL: I remember Pollard being pretty stoked about the album art. That’s probably saying something, for someone who’s as invested in the look of his album covers.

MR: Oh yeah, that is kind of cool. I remember you showing it to me back in the day, but I forgot what the inside looked like. Thanks, Discogs…

Universal Truths and Cycles, LP (2002)

MR: Alright. Time for another “even” album. Universal Truths and Cycles. Or VNIVERSAL TRVTHS AND CYCLES by GVIDED BY VOICES.

JL: No.

GB: What is this, Ancient Greece?

JL: Should have been America, c. 1776 – Univerfal Truths and Cycles.

MR: Yes, the “s” as “f” is particularly annoying. J., you’re related to a real-life signer of the Declaration. He was probably all about that fhit.

JL: Probably. Affhole.

MR: Back on Matador [for this album]. Something that they referred to as “mid-fi” production.

GB: Is that the same as “mid-life,” as in crisis?

MR: I can’t believe I talked about U2’s Pop last week without using the phrase “mid-life crisis.” Lost opportunity…

GB: How did you even have the conversation?

MR: J., I seem to remember you being a pretty big fan of this album.

JL: It has a few high points for me: “Back to the Lake,” “Cheyenne.”

MR: Yeah, I like both of those, and “Everywhere with Helicopter.”

GB: Same – all of the above. “The Ids Are Alright” is a nice shout out. I don’t know why, but it sounds more mature. “Universal Truths” is a good one.

JL: …That one with the shrieking fighter jet at the end. The jet was actually left over from the Isolation Drills budget.

MR: The Pollard biography felt that this album was particularly praiseworthy. I like it fine, but I’ve never really forged a strong connection with it, unlike some of the others. Outside of the three mentioned highlights, I forget a lot of this album when I haven’t heard it in a while. Not necessarily the worst thing, since I kind of rediscover it every time I listen.

JL: I’ve had a hard time trying to preemptively answer the question of “which tracks would you leave off,” because so many of the songs that might possibly apply to are 35-seconds long, maybe 1:30, and I tend to think, if I can’t put up with something for less than a minute, maybe it’s my own fault. So that’s sort of my criteria for “what GBV tracks could I do without.” Pollard has to drop some real lyrical clunker.

MR: Yeah, but in “peak-era” GBV, there was always an absurd amount of value packed into those really short songs. Either you got something ridiculous like “Big Chief’s Place” or something with a ridiculously great melody like “Esther’s Day.” If you were really lucky, you’d get both (“Kicker of Elves”).

JL: “Kicker of Elves” always makes me think of trying to get past Checkpoint Charlie at Coachella with all those booze bottles wrapped up in the sleeping bags.

MR: My kids still think it’s hilarious that I’ve been to Coachella. I have to remind them that it used to be a music festival, not an Instagram opportunity.

GB: It was always an Instagram opportunity. It just used to be called MySpace. Isn’t that the whole point of short GBV songs, though? It’s the joy in the misses.

MR: I’m not sure those are “misses” though. Maybe that’s my issue – although slight – with Universal Truths. It seems like it tries to nod back to the “classic era” with those short tracks, but they don’t pack that same kind of value of the older ones.

JL: Yeah, I can totally see that about Universal Truths.

MR: I think Pollard’s rock instincts really remained sharp through this whole era. When he first tried to abandon the oddball quirkiness it seemed a little inauthentic, and when he tried to go back to it, it seemed just a little off.

GB: That’s the more mature, mid-life side. Can’t keep going back to the well and expecting “Tractor Rape Chain.”

MR: I guess what I’m saying is, he could still probably write a “Tractor Rape Chain,” but he couldn’t surround it with “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” or “Yours to Keep” anymore. Isolation Drills seems to acknowledge – and accept – that. Universal Truths kind of wants it both ways.

JL: Yeah, alright. I can see it.

GB: Because he couldn’t, or because he wasn’t allowed to? How much of this is commercial pressure?

MR: Not a ton after they didn’t set the world on fire with the two TVT albums. Back on Matador he could do whatever he wanted to. Last thoughts on UT&C?

JL: It’s good. Their best is still better.

Earthquake Glue, LP (2003)

MR: Alright. Earthquake Glue. It’s an “odd” album, so you can guess my thoughts. J. gave me Earwhig and Isolation Drills in the spring of 2003, so this was my first “new” GBV album. The good thing is, you never have to wait long for your first.

JL: “Best of Jill Hives” is a contender for best pop song of that decade.

MR: Great song.

GB: My thoughts exactly. How much of the album is that song? “My Kind of Soldier” is great – another solid open – but “Jill Hives” takes over that whole record.

MR: Yeah, “Soldier” is also great. Pollard wrote that one after the rest of the album was recorded. He wanted it at the end, but Matador said that it had to go on at the beginning for “technical” reasons. Not sure what those would’ve been.

JL: I was about to ask you what technical reasons they specified, if any. Did it have a vinyl release?

MR: Yeah, it did. Hard to find for under $100 (I just looked yesterday), but that must be the technical reason.

JL: With vinyl, certain tracks have to be in the start of the record. Depends on low frequency content (bass), stereo separation, dynamics.

MR: And – to quote Mike Watt – some need to “hug label.”

JL: Yeah, “hugging label.” Tracks on the inner grooves are inevitably quieter. Much as you didn’t want to make this an R.E.M. review, I don’t want to make it a Meat Puppets review, but: there’s a good bit of Mirage in the guitar work at the end there. I think it’s on “Mix Up the Satellites.”

MR: Yeah, very “eighties” – as Pollard called it in the book – or “glassy,” as you said in our Puppets chat.

GB: “Useless Inventions” too.

MR: Pollard always wore his love of The Who on his sleeve, and I think this is the most Who-esque GBV record. There are a lot of songs on here that feel like they could have been on The Who Sell Out.

GB: So, you like it?

MR: Absolutely. This is probably my favorite GBV album outside of the PropellerUnder the Bushes run. Song-wise, I also really like “Secret Star,” “A Trophy Mule in Particular,” “Useless Inventions,” She Goes Off at Night,” lots of them.

JL: “Secret Star” sounds like it should be stupid, like Journey or something, but it’s also a good track.

MG: Yeah, I love the ending of “Secret Star.” Triumphant.

GB: I need to go back to it, for sure – probably my least familiar. I get lost in the second half.

MR: I went back to read the Pitchfork reviews of these albums – they were definitely my most-trusted music source in those days. Guess what score they gave this album?

GB: 7 to 8. Probably 7.2 or something. But I don’t think Pitchfork likes this era. They’re antithetical to their thesis.

MR: 8.5

GB: Really? Wow; not what I suspected. I figured they would hate mid-fi GBV. It doesn’t feel like a Pitchfork darling, is my point.

MR: Yeah, I was surprised too. I worried that maybe it “overinfluenced” my earlier impression of it, but no, this album is great. Hard to believe they’d give it that score in this day and age. I don’t even think they’ve reviewed the past few GBV albums.

GB: It is great, I just need to dig into it more. The threads are there.

MR: It was a great “time and place” album for me. It was a really solid new release by a band that I was just getting really into. That definitely helped. Oh, and this one – for me – is the definitive “Tucson” album. I had just moved back from Oregon somewhat recently when it came out. Felt like I had been gone a lot longer than a year – or a year just seems a lot longer in your early 20s, I suppose – and this soundtracked a couple of trips down there. This album has an “open air” sound that is not often found in GBV stuff. Maybe that’s why I formed an association between it and desert drives. It’s “grand” and “spacey” in a way that they rarely are – especially the second half.

JL: Man, I totally hear that. I remember I ate at Chipotle the day I bought this one. I don’t have a clue why I remember that.

GB: That era Tucson is all The Walkmen for me.

MR: Any last thoughts on Earthquake Glue?

GB: Nope, other than I need to go back to it.

JL: I still have the sticker that came with the disc. I should put it on something cool.

Half Smiles of the Decomposed, LP (2004)

MR: Alright, Half Smiles of the Decomposed. An “even” one.

GB: One of the best song titles ever – “Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking).”

MR: Yeah, and another good opener.

JL: “Girls of Wild Strawberries” is in the same vein as “Chasing Heather Crazy,” but I think “Strawberries” is the better track. They’re both great though.

GB: I’d tend to think the other way.

MR: “Strawberries” is good. Not a sound that they did often, but it works well. I’m with George though, in preferring “Chasing”.

GB: Have you all noticed a song placement pattern? Track 3-4 tends to be the “big” one. 8-10 are his true pop songs – “Asia Minor.”

MR: “Asia Minor” has always kind of bugged me.

GB: Why?

MR: Don’t love the chorus. I really like “Huffman Prairie.” Good way to close out the career. At least for a while.

JL: Ric Ocasek also had a song called “Asia Minor.” Maybe he stole it to get back at him for something.

MR: This album feels a little claustrophobic compared to Earthquake Glue. It seems a bit muffled and doesn’t have that “open air” feel – if that makes sense. Other highlights?

GB: “Window of My World”?

JL: I like “Asphyxiated Circle.”

MR: Yeah, that one is pretty good. 

MR: Alright, any final thoughts?

GB: Under-looked period, that didn’t feel that way in real time, but somehow also felt a little disappointing, because Bee Thousand is so damn seminal.

MR: Yeah. I mean, we were all discovering GBV during this time. They might not have been as cool as they had been a few years earlier, but they were still putting out some solid work that was a nice complement to the old stuff – which was also “new” to me. Favorite/least favorite of these six?

JL: Earthquake Glue is probably the best.

GB: Earthquake Glue is probably the best; personally it’s Do the Collapse (unpopular choice). Least – probably Universal Truths. I think Collapse because of the “investing money in an album” phenomenon – as in I bought, I have to like it.

MR: I find the even/odd thing to be really bizarre. I don’t know of any other band that I have a similar reaction to – at least off the top of my head. I could make a case for any of the three “odd” ones to be the best (Earwhig, IsolationEarthquake), but Earthquake is my favorite, for what it’s worth. I would’ve always said that Collapse was my least favorite, but after this week’s listens, I’d probably go with Half Smiles as my least favorite. All six have their moments though, of course.

GB: “Hold on Hope” excluded.

MR: Eh, it’s not bad.

JL: It is perhaps down to how many moments they each have.

MR: Maybe the playlist will help sort that out. 

MR: Shall we? You have first pick, J.

JL: “The Brides Have Hit Glass”

GB: “I Am a Tree”

MR: “The Best of Jill Hives.” Round two:

JL: How about…. “Back to the Lake.”

GB: “Surgical Focus”

MR: “Teenage FBI.” Round three:

JL: We didn’t discuss “Bulldog Skin.” I’ll take that.

MR: We didn’t, huh?

GB: Nope. “Chasing Heather Crazy.”

MR: “Fair Touching.” Round four:

JL: “Girls of Wild Strawberries”

GB: “Glad Girls”

MR: “My Kind of Soldier.” Last round:

JL: “Secret Star”

GB: “Everywhere with Helicopter”

MR: Ooh, two tough ones left… I’m gonna go with “Twilight Campfighter,” just edging out “Sad If I Lost It.” Or “Hold on Hope,” for George…

GB: Oof – tough call – don’t envy the choice.

MR: This one is only 48 minutes, whereas the others have been closer to an hour. Do we owe Uncle Bob a bonus round?

GB: I’m good with it.

JL: Sure!

MR: Alright. Bonus pick:

JL: “Jane of the Waking Universe”

GB: “Sad If I Lost It”

MR: “Learning to Hunt.” Mag Earwhig for the win in the bonus round! Those “odd” ones are unsurprisingly much better represented – five each from Earwhig and Isolation.

GB: Feels kinda right. Good list.


  • Matt Ryan

    Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

    View all posts
  • George Budney

    George Budney is a guest writer for Strange Currencies Music. Though he has no musical talent himself, he has the good fortune of friends that do. His interests include music, old cars, dogs, and other fringe pursuits.

    View all posts
  • Jack Long

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *