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January 8-14 2004
By Josh Modell
Guided By Voices
Human Amusements at Hourly Rates
No band could use an easily digestible one-disc distillation more than Guided By Voices, the prolific-to-a-fault Ohio band that accidentally launched a lo-fi pop revolution. Some 15 years after its launch, the group has to its credit three separate box sets, more than a dozen proper albums, and a dizzying assortment of side projects that require flow charts and complex mathematics to keep straight. Undoubtedly, the frequent strikes of pop brilliance from singer and sole original member Robert Pollard stem from see-what-sticks songwriting, but wading through everything he sets to tape requires a time commitment that's been less worthwhile with each year's half-dozen releases. Human Amusements At Hourly Rates squeezes 32 mostly excellent songs into 73 solid minutes; only the catchiest made the cut, and if the collection's intent is to draw in new fans, it provides irresistible bait. Even selected cuts from the band's saggy, predictable recent albums sound better when they're not surrounded by weaker tracks: "The Best Of Jill Hives," from 2003's Earthquake Glue, holds its own surprisingly well next to warped classics from the group's near-universally accepted high point, Bee Thousand. The sonic juxtaposition of hissy basement recordings and producer-assisted studio material can be jarring, though not unpleasant: With its non-chronological running order, Human Amusements jumps from messy to slick and back again, threaded together by Pollard's agile gift for hooks. Bringing together the best of those—and, just as importantly, removing the only-for-diehards excess—makes for a collection that bursts at the seams with radiant, original songs.