18 Jul Superman is a Rocker: Robert Pollard and the Third Mind
Guided By Voices’ Discography
All I know is that just when I thought Mr. Unfathomable Creativity himself couldn’t surprise me anymore, he managed to reunite a long dead incarnation of his most famous band’s past and record – not one, but three new albums with them, as if tapping into to the supposed psychic current emanating throughout 2012. Again, I was skeptical. I mean, how are you supposed to get super excited about the fact that a guy who consistently releases at least three albums a year is going to be releasing even more?
Guided By Voices’ initial offering, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, didn’t win me over entirely. It had its moments, but was rather inconsistent, which is exactly the critique everyone always lobs at GBV and everything Pollard-related. Then Class Clown Spots a UFO dropped, and I was floored. Just a great album from start to finish, and unlike the respectable work of his interim project Boston Spaceships, deliciously weird. It found them returning to the short attention span, cut-and-paste style of songwriting they essentially invented in the ’90s. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s the influence of Tobin Sprout but that is the one thing I’ll say about the new GBV: they’ve definitely upped it on the trippy front. But also, it’s exactly the re-integration of Sprout’s songwriting contributions that makes all the difference in the world in varying up the tone and pace of an album. Guy can certainly craft a catchy tune and mirrors Bob’s off-kilter surrealist lyricisms brilliantly.
Later in the year, they followed it up with an even better disc called The Bears for Lunch, and things just swirled into total WTF territory. I mean, I shouldn’t be listening to one band this much. It’s sort of creeping me out, and I think I’m creeping out my wife, but what the fuck are you going to do? They’re one of my favorite bands and they just keep putting out amazing stuff. As a Christmas gift, I ended up going online and buying some of Pollard’s art books and a couple T-shirts because of the obsession. In fact, on the same morning I was perusing these art books while watching basketball (what a Robert Pollard activity), I decided to put on Let’s Go Eat The Factory again because I hadn’t listened to that particular one in a while. Out of nowhere I was like, “You know, there’s quite a few great songs on this, and I just sort of stopped listening to it because of the dead spots.” So, as if possessed, I realized it’d be fairly easy to throw together a 2012 Guided By Voices Greatest Hits album. In fact, certain reviewers basically suggested it’s what the band should have done for a comeback. Rather than put out three albums, why not one incredibly great one? These people just don’t understand what GBV does exactly — but hell, maybe they had a point.
Guided By Voices: Free Lunch at The UFO Factory Playlist
I sat down and basically tried to let The Third Mind take over; as it were, the concept wasn’t truly coming from me in the first place. I took an equal amount of songs from all the records with one additional track from the better latter discs and made a 23-song playlist fairly quickly that I thought would flow together well. After a small bit of contemplation, I made one change, and there it is. Oh, that we have the technology to do this shit so easily these days (it should be noted that I’ve never nerded out this hard on a singular band… ever, except for that year of my life when I was 14 and pretty much listened to nothing but Led Zeppelin). I named it Free Lunch at The UFO Factory, combining elements from all three records. I thought the title was funny because there’s supposedly no such thing as a free lunch or a UFO. Is it good? Yeah, holy fuck it is.
(Tracklist below if you would like to replicate it and/or stream it.)
2. Class Clown Spots a UFO
4. Chain to The Moon
5. God Loves Us
6. White Flag
7. All of This Will Go
8. Keep It In Motion
9. Imperial Racehorsing
10. Hangover Child
11. Jon the Croc
13. Who Invented the Sun
14. Billy Wire
15. Dome Rust
16. Worm with 7 Broken Hearts
17. Finger Gang
18. The Challenge is Much More
19. Waving at Airplanes
20. You Can Fly Anything Right
21. No Transmission
22. Everywhere Is Miles Form Everywhere
23. We Won’t Apologize for the Human Race
Just total nutsville. After listening to it a few times, the sheer ridiculousness of their accomplishment started to sink in to a greater depth. These guys didn’t just come back in 2012; you can make a fairly mind-blowing Greatest Hits album from their 2012 output alone. I’m not sure anyone else is truly capable of this sort of thing, and then in early 2013, they dropped another EP, called Down By the Racetrack (again fairly interesting) and then later unleashed English Little League, which is probably the best of their reunion releases so far. Again, I was sort of expecting it suck. You’d just think they’d start slipping up at some point. Every championship team has their window.
What works about English Little League is that it comes across like more of a coherent fever dream rather than a pastiche composition of demented song fragments (not that it doesn’t come across like that). And that’d be the thing with my Greatest Hits expedition. I knew I’d still listen to all those 2012 albums in their entirety from time to time. I had to make some tough cuts. Everybody flips these guys shit for putting out a ton of filler, but those people never truly connected with the psychic GBV wavelength. It’s exactly those bizarro lo-fi, off-kilter 30-second gems that end up resonating in your subconscious for days. As a matter of fact, it’s the absolute freak out cut “Reflections in a Metal Whistle” on English Little League that sort of makes the disc, in my world. All of a sudden, the song “Noble Insect” and its incessant chanting of the word “Japan” just clicks. Ahhh, commentary on WWII. We did sort of nuke the crap out of them, didn’t we? A consistent theme of war nostalgia seems to echo through everything Pollard-related as I imagine it would for anyone born of that era. The weirdness then gives way to the absolute genius prog rock stomper “Taciturn Waves”, which is almost like Uncle Bob taunting the listener for making the most ridiculous concept song based on a cut-up phrase he could think of.
And so is the glory of GBV. Theirs is a very lyrical trip, seemingly based largely on the exact sort of poetic techniques popularized by Bryon Gysin and Burroughs back in the day? This never even occurred to me until that fateful morning watching hoops. Is Robert Pollard some sort of unconscious sorcerer, possessed by forces well beyond our understanding, conjuring surrealist songs from dimensions hitherto unknown into the so-called human reality? In my world, he is. You combine the art and the tunes, and you get the impression of a universe bent to the outer reaches of creative malleability. In fact, I spontaneously started reconfiguring his work to fit my own subjective specifications, which takes it to a whole ‘nother level of surreal. As mentioned, I’ve had experiences where I’ve been pulled up to what I can best refer to as the higher realms. Glorious artistic re-assemblages of the world we exist in, without the tedium or boundaries. Is there something sacred in mimicking this creative process in the lower more terrestrial microverses we inhabit? One can only speculate, but what I do know is that despite worldwide fame and underground recognition, I still never hear I Am A Scientist or Chasing Heather Crazy on the radio next to Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen, and that’s a fucking shame.