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The Best of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements At Hourly Rates

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Album Review

Rock bands usually release greatest-hits albums when (a) they want to get out of a record deal, (b) they've just gotten out of a record deal and the old label is trying to wring a few more bucks from the back catalog, (c) they've creatively run out of gas and have nothing else to sell, or (d) they've broken up. By all accounts, Guided by Voices and its current record label, Matador, are getting on just fine, they're releasing product at a feverish pace, they've got plenty more stuff in the pipeline, and Robert Pollard and his partners in beer-fueled hard pop aren't going away any time soon. So what's the explanation for the appearance of The Best of Guided by Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, a 32-track compilation that skims the cream from 12 years' worth of recordings by Guided by Voices? A disc that, for the record, also appears in a different sequence in a concurrently released career retrospective box set, Hardcore UFOs, whose timing seems similarly curious? The reason isn't clear, to be perfectly honest, but given that GBV and songwriter, frontman, and benevolent dictator Pollard have long borne the curse of not knowing their wheat from their chaff, Human Amusements serves a long-needed function — it's the ideal introduction to a great band with a sprawling but spotty back catalog. GBV fans can (and doubtless will) argue for hours about what did or didn't make the cut, and in all honesty this band has too many miniature masterpieces to fit on one disc, but this collection offers 77 minutes of great hooks, hummable melodies, man-sized guitars, and general rock geek bliss, and there isn't a single song here that doesn't satisfy. Truth is, you can't say that about very many of GBV's albums, and there isn't one that's going to give you "I Am a Scientist," "The Official Ironman Rally Song," "Chasing Heather Crazy," "I Am a Tree," and "Motor Away," to name a few faves, all in one convenient shopping place. In short, no longer do you need to make a mixtape to convince your friends of the sporadic but consistent genius of Guided by Voices — Robert Pollard has made one for you, so just hand skeptics a copy of Human Amusements at Hourly Rates and let it be their road map to the odd and abundant pleasures of GBV. (Note: Less than six months after this compilation was released, Robert Pollard announced that Guided by Voices would be breaking up at the end of 2004, making the timing of Human Amusements at Hourly Rates somewhat less curious than this writer previously assumed.)


Formed: 1985 in Dayton, OH

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Inspired equally by jangle pop and arty post-punk, Guided by Voices created a series of trebly, hissy indie rock records filled with infectiously brief pop songs that fell somewhere between the British Invasion and prog rock. After recording six self-released albums between 1986 and 1992, the Dayton, Ohio-based band attracted a handful of fans within the American indie rock underground. With the 1994 release of Bee Thousand, the group became an unexpected alternative rock sensation, winning positive...
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