Guided by Voices - Alien Lanes (Cover Artwork)

Guided by Voices

Alien Lanes (1995)


Lo-fi, sketchy, utterly addictive and brilliant, the 28 songs that form Alien Lanes cover such a broad span of genres and move by so fast that, initially, many of them may well just pass you by. Taking in garage rock, British invasion pop, psych, folk and post-punk, and buoyed by the ever-present buzz of an ungrounded chord, this album is the musical equivalent of a funhouse, with plenty of rooms to wander into and explore. Repeated listens reveal hooks that will stick in your head for days, and it may take you ages to memorize the wacky titles ("Blimps Go 90," "Striped White Jets") of these delicious buzz-inducers.

Let me interject right now: I love it when bands throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Overindulgence lies as the secret to frontman Robert Pollard's brilliance and inspiration. He is overindulgent as fuck. A band on an indie label as well off as Matador that can toss out epic melodies, but which instead makes the conscious artistic choice to record on a four-track tape, with a limited coterie of musicians, trained only in the knotted-guitar chord frustration of small-scale recordings in the privacy of a cramped bunker (Pollard's basement). Can someone explain how that is not obscenely overindulgent? There's nothing stripped down about a 41-minute record with 28 songs on it. The album's sloppy, lo-fi production virtually eliminates the `90s trend of overproduction, which dated songs by glossing over their charms and quirks. The fuzz, hisses and pops of Alien Lanes add to its unity and ensure that it will remain timeless.

Although some criticism has (perhaps rightfully) been leveled at Pollard for ‘writing about nothing,' his lyrics deserve a lot of attention on this particular album. "Watch Me Jumpstart," for example, is a self-affirming anthem of change: "Watch me jumpstart as the old skin is peeled / See an opening and bust into the field / Hidden longings no longer concealed," while the ultra-hooky "Game of Pricks" tells of his miserable experience in divorce court: "I've entered the game of pricks with knives in the back of me / Can't call you or on you no more when they're attacking me." Even when some lines are too abstruse to be deciphered, their imagery is always fresh, never borrowed: "Post-punk X-Man parked his forklift like a billion stars flickering from the grinder's wheel / Lower hybrid clad in metal in subgroup tools / Excused from school to fathom hell."

Alien Lanes is proof, in the age of major label hegemony, that one need not be David Geffen or Butch Vig to shepherd signature records for our generation. And possibly this will be Guided by Voice's legacy, instead of the many thousand anthems, songs, and fragments that they recorded and released over two decades with the endurance of a long-distance runner and the mindset of a sprinter. Immediacy, brevity, pure raw nerve join forces to make Alien Lanes one of the last great albums of the 20th century -- a record that tells us the long and labyrinthine history of rock and roll in the space of 28 well-paced shocks. It is a modern classic in every possible way.

Hunting Knife