Saturday, 26 June 2010

He's The Uncle

Sometimes when you hear a song, you kinda hear more than what's there. You hear the sound but - sometimes - you sense more than that; you feel some way about the people who recorded it, you have ideas about where it was recorded and how, you tap into a history and thus you get the feeling that a particular song might just be a pinpoint on a map of something a lot bigger than the song itself. You want to explore that map.

That's how I felt about this record when I first heard it:

Released by Australian label Fellaheen to coincide with a joint tour by both bands, it's a pretty killer 6 track EP. I bought it for the Superchunk songs (GBV didn't even make the tour in the end) but it was a track called 'He's The Uncle' off the split that really caught my ear.

In Guided By Voices folklore, 'He's The Uncle' is a bit of mythological song. Apparently recorded for an aborted concept album (gloriously titled The Power of Suck) but later scrapped and reconfigured into 1996's Under The Bushes Under The Stars. It's the Guided By Voices b-side that everyone knows is a stone cold classic. The band know it too, I noticed they played it at their final show.

To me, it's a song that captures everything I like about GBV: a big chorus, noise, melody, tape compression and hiss all recorded by one of my favourite GBV line-ups. It's somehow BIG and lo-fi at the same time.

What I didn't know then was this: (1) 'He's The Uncle' would be my gate-way drug into the spiral of GBV fandom, something I'm happily floating around in a decade later (2) the song sounds so fucking good because it sits at a bizarre intersection of so many things I like about music. For instance:
  • Steve Albini recorded it at home. On the CD sleeve it says Tobin Sprout recorded it on 4-track but bass player of the time Jim Greer seems to remember it otherwise.
  • Jim O'Rourke performed the noise interlude in the middle-8 that I've always thought was just mildly too far-out for GBV.
  • Later Bob Pollard messed around the mult-tracks at home and added the guitar solo and some delay.
That's a perfect storm of everything I like about music made in the 90s.

That's what I heard but didn't really comprehend.

But it was all there all this time.

Music is awesome like that sometimes don't you think?

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