Gonna be out of the office today so posting will be light. Gotta go up to NYC and drink beer and talk about records with this guy. I know, I know. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it. Check our Twitter stream in the coming hours if you are curious. In the meantime, enjoy this snazzy essay on GBV’s SUITCASE: Failed Experiments & Trashed Aircraft from 2000. If that’s a little too inside baseball for you, try this heart-tugging Bob Pollard/Kim Deal duet on “Love Hurts,” which is, depending on the day, either my favorite thing either artist has done, together or alone, or my second favorite. Either way it’s up there. Be sure to grab a tissue before you press PLAY because I guarantee there will be a tear in your beer by the time it’s over, cowboy. Not sure what the deal is with the visuals, looks like some Dark Shadows-esque lo-fi horror movie from the 60s, which somehow captures the mood.
Forty-two tracks into this four-disc collection of Guided By Voices odds and sods there is a song title that perfectly describes the wizardly pop alchemy of Robert Pollard: “Shit Midas”. Employing the same Buckeye ingenuity that keeps the Goodyear blimp afloat, Pollard can polish a turd with Budweiser until it shines with 24-carat radiance, transmuting a tossed-off, six-pack idea into a classic rock artifact or at the very least a beguiling curio. As captain of the drunken boat that is Guided By Voices, Pollard has built a cottage industry by churning out cheap, miniature melodic masterpieces with all the fidelity of a ham radio broadcast. He’s cornered the market on lo-fi charm, and he does it with volume. Quantity that is, not loudness.
The eternal question on the question on the lips of record store clerks and zine scribblers ever since GBV became an indie phenomenon upon the release of their 1994 masterwork Bee Thousand is what, pray tell, is the source of this seemingly bottomless fount of song? For years Pollard has dropped sly hints about a suitcase buried deep in the dusty recesses of some Dayton basement that contained recordings of some 5,000 songs dating back to his pre-teen beginnings as a rock composer. As legend has it, he would, under a full moon and half-a-load on, open this satchel and a brilliant ray of inspirational light would beam out, or at the very least he would find an old song or two to cannibalize. As the years passed, the mystique of the suitcase grew to mythical proportions, until it became the Rosebud in indie rock’s attic, the Rosetta Stone that can decode the mysteries of the elusive Perfect Pop Moment.
The release of Suitcase: Trashed Aircraft and Failed Experiments is tantamount to that scene at the end of “Citizen Kane” where the camera zooms in on the image of the sled being tossed onto the fire, as the flames
slowly burn off the letters R-O-S-E-B-U-D and the elusive secret of the film is revealed as it is destroyed. This four disc collection has the same effect on Pollard’s song-stuffed Samsonite, which I have long speculated may well contain the one magical tune that could save rock n’ roll. That song isn’t here. There is no long lost Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes to be pieced together out of these 100 tracks, though there are plenty of hummable outtakes from that golden era. In many ways, Suitcase is the long-missing bookend to 1995’s Box, which collected the four impossible-to-find albums that pre-dated the release of Vampire On Titus, revealing that in fact, GBV’s best work was still by and large ahead of them.
Suitcase is not for tourists. GBV beginners are well advised to begin with Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes and work forward. Suitcase is for the superfans that still can’t get enough G-B-fuckin’-V after 23 albums and E.P.s and more doomed singles than you’ll find on stumbling down Delaware Avenue on penny drink night. To track the labyrinthine lineage of these songs would take a slide rule and a flowchart stretching from my house to yours. But suffice it to say that they range in date and origin from 1974’s “Little Jimmy The Giant”, 16-year-old Bobby Pollard’s fairytale ode to his kid brother, and 1979’s “Mr. Mc Caslin Will Sell No More Flowers”, a Capraesque tribute to some Dayton florist that sounds like it was recorded in the Middle Ages, all the way up to “Raphael” and “Born On Seaweed”, which were put to tape earlier this year. The bulk of the material here was written and recorded over the last decade of Pollard’s 30-year rockathon, stemming from three primary sources: two aborted albums, 1989’s “Learning To Hunt” (represented here with the Midwestern McCartney-ism of “Blue Gil”) and 1992’s “Back To Saturn X”; demos from 1995’s shelved concept album The Power of Suck, a doomed collaboration between Pollard, Kim Deal and then-bass player/ex-Spin scribe Jim Greer; and demos and song sketches from Bee Thousand (there’s an embryonic “Buzzards And Dreadful Crows” from 1989) up to last year’s Do The Collapse.
All told, there is enough glorious basement-pop manna – “Ha-Ha Man”, “Bughouse”, “Messenger” to name just three – mixed in with all these abandoned ideas, discarded refrains and beer-soaked brainfarts to justify the investment for GBV lifers.If you’ve read this far, that probably means you, or somebody you know and love. Philadelphia has smiled on Guided By Voices since the band broke from the twilight obscurity of Dayton five years ago, packing the Khyber time and again to watch Pollard baptize himself with Budweiser and belch out the greatest songs never heard — and for one beery moment everything still seemed possible. If your passion for GBV has slowly diminished as the production values of each ensuing album has steadily evolved from field recording fuzzy to radio-friendly, this is a good chance to get back to where you once belonged. Given the dustbunny-on-the-needle fidelity of the these recordings, Suitcase will remind you of why you first fell in love with the legend of beer-pounding, ex-teacher old dudes building four-track masterpieces in the basements of the Midwest. — JONATHAN VALANIA