By Noah Lopez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Guided By Voices
No other group seems as ready to take on the world more than Guided By Voices. Despite their affected indie rock posturing, this is a group who really want to be rock stars. And GBV is one group of beer swilling, stage kicking popsters that deserve what's coming to them.
Alien Lanes isn't their breakthrough album, however, although it is their best album since their 1991 Propeller. It is a more cohesive blend of the patented Guided By Voices lo-fi pop hookery and idiosyncratic lyrics. All the typical GBV hallmarks are here Ä the short songs, the tape hiss and pop, the drunken slurring and false British accentry Ä but they seem more toned down. Last year's critically acclaimed Bee Thousand had its share of great songs, but they were tempered by a feeling that the album was more forced than previous efforts.
Alien Lanes has that same forced feel to it Ä largely stemming from the fact that this album, like Bee Thousand, was recorded in a full studio but tries to sound as though it was recorded in lead singer Robert Pollard's basement on a beat-up four track. This effect is downplayed for good measure on the latest release. Instead of drawing attention to the lo-fi aesthetic that everyone has gotten sick of reading about, the band has incorporated the tape chatter and squeaks into a gelled sound.
That gelled sound carries over to the album's music as well. While on past efforts the Dayton, Ohio band has worn their influences on their sleeves Ä bits of Kinks, Beatles, the Who, etc. emerging from the garbled stew Ä this is the first album where a listener can pull out one of the many simple, power chord riffs and call it a true "Guided By Voices riff" or hear one of the running-up-the-stairs type vocal lines and recognize it as a familiar GBV song trick.
Outside of that, what can you say about this album? It's a great introduction (along with the Vampire on Titus/Propeller CD) to a fantastic band. By the time I listened to this album for the third time a lot of the songs were inextricably launched in my head, leaving me in awe of how any group can have so many classic songs overflowing from their . well, basement.
Most of this new trip-hop movement gets old real quick. After titans like Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers, comes a big drop in quality, with most stuff lingering in the bad acid jazz area of mindless noodling. Some groups escape this musical purgatory Ä notably Portishead, although they really only have a couple of good songs Ä but most seem content to just hang around until the next trend in English dance music comes around.
That said, it's no surprise that one of the best trip-hop (what a bad name for a music genre) releases this year comes from a former member of aforementioned Massive Attack. Tricky, simply put, is something else. While Portishead gains its (arguable) strength from the airiness that's contained in its music, the fuzzy expanse from which their vocals and Morricone samples emerge and fade, Tricky benefits from a full front aural attack. Tricky's production wall is thick and impenetrable, never succumbing to the vocals, never refusing to not be in the listener's face. The mix has all the hazy nuovo-psychedelia that marks most trip-hop, but it never worries about subtleness. Listening to Tricky is like being attacked by a blunt butter knife.
At times, such as the final minute of the second track, "Ponderosa," this is an unsettling feeling. You want to get away from the oppresive mix, but it's so catchy and eloquent that you can't help but stick around. Even on such potential missteps as their cover of Public Enemy's "Black Steel," Tricky (and the breathy vocals of new diva Martine, who quickly offers more dimensionality than the singer for Portishead, and emerges as the first real replacement for former Massive Attack queen Shara Nelson) shines through, never ceasing to amaze with his overdubs, tape loops and originality.
This isn't the definitive trip-hop work, but a good example of where the genre can go with a little creativity.
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