Well, the folks at Matador Records have finally gone and done it: created their own Guided by Voices mix tape. Well, boy, howdy, that's exactly the same thing GBV fans have been doing in their bedrooms and basements for years now. With a catalog containing literally hundreds, if not thousands, of songs, however, picking and choosing was never easy. And the task of compiling something truly retrospective within the space allotted on a single compact disc was flat-out impossible. Yet Matador (and GBV helmsman/savant Robert Pollard, who selected and sequenced the whole thing) has done an admirable job with Human Amusements at Hourly Rates: The Best of Guided By Voices.
With characteristically little fuss or fanfare, the collection presents 32 tracks that do this remarkable Datyon, Ohio, band tremendous justice -- insofar as any justice can be done with such a limited number of songs. While there are certainly dozens of ragged GBV classics that failed to make the list, the album thoughtfully contains essentials from every era in the band's long and productive career. Reaching all the way back to 1987 is the balls-out rocking overdrive of "Captain's Dead" (from Devil Between My Toes). There's also the beautiful and spare "14 Cheerleader Coldfront" from 1992's Propeller and "Shocker in Gloomtown" from the 1993 EP, The Grand Hour. And yes, middle-period lovelies from Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars are well-represented ("My Valuable Hunting Knife," "Watch Me Jumpstart," "Cut-Out Witch," "Tractor Rape Chain," "I Am a Scientist") mixed in with single-only alternatives of famous album tracks ("Motor Away," "Game of Pricks," Teenage FBI") and enough outstanding latter-day clean cuts ("Things I Will Keep," Twilight Campfighter," "Surgical Focus," "The Best of Jill Hives") to keep recent converts from feeling left out of the party.
Human Amusement should prove especially invaluable for fans recommending GBV to neophytes and for the curious justifiably overwhelmed by the thought of slogging through the band's massive discography, which contains something like 17 albums (and counting) and god knows how many EPs and singles. These are all prime cuts here, trimmed of fat and ready for ingestion. Not only do they represent some of the band's finest moments, they also represent some of the finest indie-rock moments of the last two decades.
'Nuff said. Go listen.
Publication date: 11/13/03