We’re altering the Digging for Fire format starting with this entry. Instead of solely focusing on out of print or forgotten records of the past, we want to start re-introducing and reexamining albums. Be they classics or overlooked gems, the new focus of Digging For Fire is to aquatint our readers, particularly our younger ones with albums we feel are essential listening.
Unfortunately we won’t always be posting downloads any longer as some of these releases are very much still in print. But you guys are all clever and know how to use the internet right? – My Pal the Crook
While there were certainly more obscure records to speak of, when referring to the short list of albums I compiled to write about for my inaugural Digging For Fire post, none meant more to me personally than Alien Lanes. Often times you might stumble into a particular album at a fitting time in your life, and finding GBV early on in my college days was nothing if not apropos. It’s almost as if some undefinable strand contained within the Alien Lanes genome lends itself to slamming a Bud heavy while washing piles of crusty dishes in a dive apartment. At the expense of getting overly sentimental, it feels a little like I met Alien Lanes during my very first syllabus week, and really never looked back over the subsequent four years… well, four and a half years actually.
If you’re not in the know, GBV is/was comprised of a rotating cast of Beatles-0bsessed schlubs, jocks and high school teachers, all hailing from the bustling metropolis of Dayton Ohio. Popping up somewhere toward the middle portion of the Guided by Voices catalog, Alien Lanes was the first official record the dudes put out as members of the now-prestigious Matador Records stable and ocnsidere dtheir last album with their “classic lineup.” Front man, and group auteur, Robert Pollard, was reportedly given a five-figure sum by the NY indie label to produce the LP, but opted instead to fill the album with a collection of bizarre home-recorded ditties, done on the cheap. Whether Pollard aimed to retain the group’s signature home-grown lo-fi sound here, or simply just wanted to save cash to pay off an astronomical bar tab, is really up for debate at this point.
What’s clear, however, is that the crew (whose chief songwriters consisted of Pollard and Tobin Sprout) walked away with a record that impressively manages to sustain steam for 28 tracks, while still properly encapsulating the band’s sound. Alien Lanes could be looked at as a total mess in a lot of ways, but should also be presented the distinction of GBV’s greatest triumph. For modern-day youngsters weaned on Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit, the album could come of sounding a little archaic, or even boring. I think the record manages a feat no Shit-Gaze act has yet to accomplish though, which is to say, it has kept me coming back for more and more listens over time. If nothing else, Alien Lanes is catchy as hell.
I have a friend who bought the concert film documenting what was at the time thought to be GBV’s farewell show. She claimed to be disappointed with the footage and overall quality of the thing, citing how drunk all the band members became as the show progressed. While I can understand her stance on the matter in some ways, I also think she’s missing the point here a little bit. The very fact that these middle-aged fellas are still wheeling out (literal) piss and puke buckets as stage fixtures is one of the reasons twenty-something year old dudes look to Pollard and the gang as kindred spirits. They’re still doing it man!
If this short piece reaches a single dopey high school or college meat head, who’s uneducated in the mystical ways of Bob Pollard, and views Dave Matthews as the be-all end-all, then I’ll have done my job. Give the album a spin, and you’ll be shouting about your “Valuable Hunting Knife” before you know it. Take my word on this one, I’ve already fallen into this vicious trap.- Zaius