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Mike Velez PDXS 5/10/95

This review originally appeared in the March 10th 1995 edition of PDXS. 1995 Michael Velez.

Guided By Voices Box Scat Records by Mike Velez

Handsomely slip cased, this box set is sure to invite detractors not converted to the GbV cause and untouched by their rough yet impossibly beautiful oueve. Originally released to absolutely no attention in editions that redefine "limited" (they were essential y vanity pressings) Box collects the first four Guided by Voices albums spanning 1987-1990, with a bonus discs collecting more recent outtakes, not quite in time for Christmas. Box is wonderful and illuminating, evidence that the sixties mod-mediated pop of front man Bob Pollard was in full effect long before their ascent to hipster status. Yes, folks, they were lo-fi when lo-fi wasn+t cool.

And yes, if you know of Guided by Voices by their most recent records like 1993+s "Vampire on Titus" or 1994+s utterly landmark "Bee Thousand" (tempted to anoint it the Sgt. Pepper of lo-fi, but that would be stupid), the music of the first four records sounds pretty much like what you would expect it to be. Less clipped and more fully fleshed out, these tunes sound more overtly 1966-1967 than GbV+s recent offerings. These first four, 1987+s "Devil between my Toes" and "Sandbox", 1989+s "Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia" and 1990+s "Same Place the Fly Got Smashed", are independent in the fiercest sense. When these records were released, outside of say the odd Soft Boys fan, it is hard to imagine what sort of audience could have embraced such sincere but anachronsitic-sounding rock.

This is music that you sense was done entirely for its own sake. Pollard+s lyrics are not quite as bent (or seemingly sci-fi themed) as his more recent offerings and his vocals (particularly on the latter two) are less Britishly inclined. Box is odd in its documentation of a band who grew backwards against the conventional wisdom of how bands are supposed to evolve. "Devil..." and "Sandbox" are initially strange due to their fidelity (sort of) and fully developed tunes. Even here, there are tracks which point to the GbV to come, in particular the Byrdsian "Captain+s Dead" on the "Devil..."

The final disc of outtakes "King Shit and the Golden Boys" is mainly composed of songs which didn+t make it "Bee Thousand" . Eagle-eared listeners will recognize several songs that were officially released only as snippets ; two of these ("Fantasy Creeps" "2nd Moves to Twin") are the demented and catchy GbV beloved to all.

A fitting archivist haul from a band whose strange aesthetic has come into its own partially due to the changing taste of the mass ear and partially due to their own excellence. Like their more familiar work, these songs sound both eerily familiar and somehow touching at once. GbV+s current incarnation is able to say volumes in half a minute in a seemingly tossed-off manner that belies the well-craftededness of the songs. Box, replete with primitive echo and garage band sonority documents how they got here.


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