Guided By Voices
Why aren't Guided By Voices all over the radio? There's absolutely nothing on Earthquake Glue that Middle America would find the least bit offensive. The songs have great beats, Pollard is a melodic genius, and all of the sonic experimentation here is in service of the often stunning songwriting. "Beat Your Wings"' melancholy cymbals and sublime, Thin Lizzy guitar bridge should be inescapable, crowding all that Coldplay crap off the airwaves. Hundreds of thousands want to speed through the teenage night blasting "Of Mites and Men" on their car stereos, but they don't know it because they've never heard it. It's a testament to the distorting power of marketing on the public's taste for popular music that "Useless Inventions" isn't stuck in your head right now. In other words, Pollard's lackluster career is proof that record companies and radio conglomerates are run by a bunch of creeps. If Pollard weren't some kind of industrial-strength rock-and-roll machine, he wouldn't have gotten as far as he has.
Pollard's prodigious output may be a result of an extremely short attention span. The rush of ideas means he can't stay on one riff for more than a few seconds. In the past, this led to perfectly formed minute-and-a-half songs and multi-page set lists for two-hour shows. But lately Pollard seems to have outgrown that style. There's only one song on Earthquake Glue shorter than two minutes, Pollard making the relatively epic lengths fit his band's personality by turning each song into a Pete Townshend operetta. The Who influence will jump out at you on first listen, but there are bits of Television, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones, T. Rex, and George Harrison's lightning guitar tone from The White Album in there as well.
Guided By Voices' cult has been slowly expanding for years, but if there were any justice in the world, Pollard would be filling up stadiums instead of bumping up against the glass ceiling that has been in place since the Replacements screwed up their Saturday Night Live appearance. Pollard doesn't let it get him down, and I hope he can put out records this good for the rest of my life. But the frustration he must feel comes through in "A Trophy Mule in Particular," when, in a rare moment of candor, he sings, "Stock market tumbling/Rock market crumbling/So where am I now?/For I am a soldier."
-- Chris McCoy
Holly Golightly (yep, it's her real name) tried to inject some humor and personality into the closing track, "It's True We Love One Another," on the White Stripes' tired-ass Elephant, but she made poor Meg White sound like a clueless, tuneless cipher and completely outclassed Jack White on that not-so-groovy ditty. (Word of advice to Jack White: If you're gonna trade dozens with somebody, make sure it's a person less sharp than yourself, not someone as verbally vicious and funny as Golightly. Like she'd ever consent to having your bun in her oven, Mister Jack.)
Golightly was a member of Thee Headcoatees, a Billy Childish girl-group side project that served as a complement to his '90s garage troopers, Thee Headcoats. Say what you will about the sameness of production featured on any or all of his records, those Headcoats and Headcoatees recordings sounded really cool, like early Kinks albums.
That "Billy Childish sound" is really the sound of London's analog-only Toe Rag Studio (where the White Stripes recorded Elephant last year, hoping to leech some of that elusive studio magic) run by Liam Watson, who engineered almost all of those Headcoats/Headcoatees recordings.
Since 1995, Golightly has done 11 solo recordings, mostly at Toe Rag, with Watson at the board. Truly She Is None Other is your typically great Golightly album, with nine of her original tunes and a couple of well-chosen Kinks covers, "Time Will Tell" and "Tell Me Now So I Know" (nice samba arrangement too on the latter Ray Davies song). It sounds really good. All hail H. Golightly, B. Childish, Liam Watson, Toe Rag Studio, and analog recording equipment. --Ross Johnson
Red Dirt Road -- Brooks & Dunn (Arista Nashville): Whereas most Nashville acts appropriate the laid-back macho of the Eagles or the rebel-yell boogie of Lynyrd Skynyrd (sans complexity) for their classic-rock moves, here one of the least-hip acts on the planet pledges allegiance to the heartland anthems and regular-guy solidarity of Seger and Mellencamp -- and triumphs. It also helps that they boast better Stones' guitar than Keith Richards himself has played in 20 years. The Vietnam-era remembrance "When We Were Kings" is both a casually damning foreign-policy analysis and a "Jack and Diane" for our times. The title track is sing-along rural nostalgia without a reactionary aftertaste. The hidden track is bizarro apocalyptic gospel that flips the bird at the religious right. The Hot New Country schlock is kept to a minimum. It's the best Nashville record of the year and, if not for the Drive-by Truckers, the best Southern rock too. Who knew? ("You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl," "When We Were Kings," "Red Dirt Road")
Band Red --Kaito U.K. (SpinART): Singers Gemma Cullingford and Nikki Colk shred their vocal chords with more romper-room righteousness and beautiful ugliness than any punk band since LiLiPUT, Kaito's unavoidable model, but lose steam when they slow it down. ("Enemyline," "Should I," "Driving Manual Auto")
Youth & Young Manhood --Kings of Leon (RCA): They earn the ubiquitous Strokes comparison on "Happy Alone," which could be an Is This It outtake if not for the goony vocals. In fact, the whole record would be perfectly acceptable guitar rock if it were instrumental and they ditched both the slow songs and the Allmans-style jam. As it is, strip away the publicity-seeking back-story and CCR-for-Halloween imagery and these (very) borderline local boys would never have become the Dubious Hype of the Year. Most obnoxious album title in recent memory too. ("Happy Alone," "California Waiting")
-- Chris Herrington
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.