Two weeks ago in these pages I tipped a hat to the "shortsighted," "solipsistic," "retro-fixated" princes of American (and Canadian) indie rock. Though I didn't include them in the list that followed (because their 2003 album was a snooze)--who was I talking about if not Guided by Voices, the most successful bar band not including the guys who play on all those karaoke CDs? (Technically, I gotta backpedal on the solipsism where GBV front man Robert Pollard is concerned, since before semi-stardom hit he taught elementary school--a more responsible use of resources than any I've pursued. Hey, self-flagellation--that's indie!)
I have no idea if Human Amusement at Hourly Rates, GBV's new Matador best-of, is a proper distillation of the band's 37 jillion albums, singles and limited-edition one-sided cardboard flexis because I'm too shortsighted to have heard 'em all and because I suspect that for true GBV fans, distilling that recorded girth down to a single, handily annotated CD is a misunderstanding of the band's purpose in the first place. But I do know that it demonstrates my point pretty well. "Retro-fixated" needs no explanation whatsoever; half the songs and songlets here sound like Pollard would've loved a spot on the Rushmore soundtrack. The impenetrable lyrics and famously inscrutable song titles assure a fan-club insularity for which fan-club members live: "14 Cheerleader Coldfront," "Echos Myron," the immortal "Tractor Rape Chain." And the four-dollar recordings that've cured the older material like insubstantial hunks of salt pork betray an immaturity endemic to American princes (or, I suppose, shitty four-dollar jobs).
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And yet every once in a while, as they will undoubtedly do Sunday night at Trees, the band plows haphazardly, almost accidentally, into a pleasure center you might forget is yours--a simple human amusement resigned to an hourly fate.