Morgan Enos is a musician, essayist and music journalist specializing in classic rock. He records and performs as Other Houses and has bylines in Billboard, HuffPost, the Recording Academy, Vinyl Me, Please, TIDAL and more. He is also the co-founder and editor of North of the Internet, a series of conversations with creative people. He can be found at his website.
I’ve always been a finisher, not a tinkerer. Some artist friends of mine spend years on their first work, endlessly pontificating and redoing. God bless them, but that’s not for me. Guided by Voices have always been my North Star on how to finish what I start — and their new album, Warp and Woof, is proof positive it can be done.
Some bands take pride in “bashing out” an album, and Warp and Woof takes this to the extreme. Being on tour is 90% downtime; they leveraged it to make more great music. According to the press release, the band made their overdubs at club soundchecks and in hotel rooms; bassist Mark Shue overdubbed “Angelic Weirdness” while teetering on the bench seat of their speeding tour van.
For most artists, the results would be barely suitable for a demo — not for GBV. It’s done. Simple. Move on. They’re already teasing the next album, Sweating the Plague, due in October. They didn’t waste time second-guessing or let the flaws trip them up. I don’t turn to GBV for perfection; I love hearing what’s going through frontman Robert Pollard’s head any given year. They will never toil upon their own The Dark Side of the Moon. Instead, their albums are like road signs on a lifetime journey.
Guided by Voices enjoys a kind of loyal fanbase I probably never will — my audience is usually a few close friends — but I’ve always tried to tap into that energy. When I was 20, I made my first pro recording, Last of Fortune, with two producers, two studios and two years of work involved. I’m still proud of it. But I itched to make something unfiltered, immediate.
Around then, I found GBV. I loved their lack of trickery; it was all tunes, all attitude, “correct” production be damned. Each song featured uncountable flaws, an omnipresent RadioShack tape hiss. The unmastered songs jarringly leapt from volume to volume. It felt courageous. A thumb in the eye of “careful” art. No fear.
Instead of booking more studio time, I decided to turn to a tiny gadget I’d had since high school: a BOSS Micro BR Digital Recorder. It has what you need. Four tracks. A tiny built-in condenser. Primitive mixing ability. You can find it online today for $65. It was perfect.
I made a slew of Other Houses releases then — Bad Reputation, Fabulous Dates, Zero Sum Defeater, Jangle Omega — with me sloppily playing every instrument. No hovering cursors, no litany of endless options, no gearhead prosumerism. The sound quality was unpredictable, sure. But not laboring over the music made it somehow come alive.
Warp and Woof teems with that aliveness. Like the best GBV albums, it has an unacademic, finger-painted quality. Highlights “Blue Jay House,” “My Angel,” and “End It With Light” contain clever, classic melodies; Pollard could have easily labored over each one, adding horns and harmonies and production flourishes. But by simply saying “done,” each gets a captivating, raw energy. If you reach for lumpy-sounding Beatles bootlegs over Sgt. Pepper’s, this is the band for you.
Finishing decisively doesn’t mean the work will be great. It often doesn’t. But I’ve heard enough albums that take five painstaking years to only become a weird, overcooked product. When it doesn’t work out, they’re crushed. Then, five more years. Repeat.
Warp and Woof is no monumental GBV work. That’s why I love it. They simply turned on the tap. Some music does benefit from gestation, but not this. It would lose its breezy, unencumbered flavor. Give me the fuzzy production, the audio errors, the occasional off-key vocal. It just means I can’t wait for what’s next. Here’s to “pencils down.”