Suitcase One, Song by Song
by Dave heaton
Suitcase is a song collection more than an album, which means that it has a ton of great and interesting songs, but can be hard to take all at once. I like that, though: think of all the different song combinations you could make with a program button and a cassette tape. Still, as albums the discs hold together better than one might expect. To me, the first disc is the most listenable; it has more rock and less noisy bits. It isn't necessarily the best of the four, but it is the easiest one for me to listen straight through.
1. "The Terrible Two," Styles We Paid For: Suitcase kicks off with the sort of lo-fi rock song that would have fit perfectly into King Shit and the Golden Boys (or, really, anything in the Propeller to Alien Lanes period). Like a lot of the songs on here, it has some lines that ended up in another song (I believe it's the "take a little time to stumble/show a little faith in something larger in your life" part, though I don't remember what it's from), and it's already familiar to GBV fanatics who've heard some of the rarities tapes that have circulated unofficially. It's a rocking song, a good start.
2. "Bloodbeast," Standard Generator: A sludgy minor-key fairy tale about someone/something names "Bloodbeast." It has an opening pair of lines that cracks me up every time: "Bloodbeast enters heaven, the battle has begun/Put him on the guest list, Bloodbeast plus one." The first part sounds like some ultra-serious goth song, but then the surreal punch line comes in, sticking the mythical Bloodbeast in an everyday situation. It's a line that ups the sequel potential; think of all the possibilities: Bloodbeast At the Beach, Bloodbeast Rents a Movie, Bloodbeast Visits the Laundromat, etc.
3. "The Kissing Life," Huge on Pluto: A demo version of an outtake from Do the Collapse, one of the songs the band played live in the months before that album was recorded. It's a beautiful song that doesn't necessarily bring to mind the sound of Do the Collapse; it's a melodic mid-tempo rocker that's more "Tractor Rape Chain" than "Teenage FBI."
4. "Bottoms Up! (You Fantastic Bastard)," Whitey Museum: A funky little strutter. Bob's with the disco police, he's got a pocket full of friggin loose change, and he wants to reroute your map.
5. "Tear It Out," (The Amazing) Ben Zing: A moody ballad with nice lyrics that are represent the more straightforward side of Bob's brain: "I challenge you to figure out the truth/A picture of a spoiled wasted youth." It reminds me a bit of "Larger Massachusetts" from Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department, though the music and recording style immediately set it off as from the earlier Box era of GBV.
6. "Cinnamon Flavored Skulls," Meat Kingdom Group: Real short; Bob screams something about "Bricks!" (as far as my ears go, anyway), while someone moans in the background. Sounds like a band called Meat Kingdom Group should.
7. "Bunco Men," Elf God: Fantastic pop/rock song, one of the many Suitcase songs that sounds this close to a hit, if only it'd been reworked a little and recorded in a clearer way; in this case, if it didn't sound like Pollard was singing underwater for half the song.
8. "Bad and Rare," Judas & the Piledrivers: What's this, an outtake from the GBV/Ravi Shankar sessions? A weird Indian-flavored song, with Bob rambling about something or other ("more than a monkey!"?). Kind of nice and odd.
9. "Dorothy's a Planet," Eric Pretty: Bob solo and acoustic, like a fair amount of the Suitcase. Here he's alternately channeling some weird cosmic ditty and singing a down-to-earth love song. Both are beautiful. Eric Pretty's name suits him, this is a gorgeous little ditty.
10. "Pluto the Skate," Global Witch Awakening: A musical poem leads into the guitar riff from "Catfood on the Earwhig" (off the Plantations of Pale Pink 7"), and then a "Is everybody happy now?" chant with a slightly scary edge about it.
11. "Let's Go Vike," Magic Toe: Another common GBV rarity, this is a mellow rock song that seems to be about a motorcycle man trying to find a woman. It has a nice slightly Who-ish vibe in places, though the chorus/title has always left me scratching my head.
12. "Sabotage," Hazzard Hotrods: A jazz/soul ballad sung after swallowing poison. Apparently recorded in a video store, this sounds like the evil twin of Jonathan Richman's "Affection": "Sabotage is a thing I've thought about/Sabotage is a thing I want to know."
13. "Pink Drink," Tax Revlon: A variation on a common melodic theme in the GBV catalog, one showing up in various rarity tracks and at least one released track ("Beneath the Festering Moon"). Here, though, it's a genuine rock anthem, paired with a lyrical ode to kicking back, relaxing and popping the can on a pink drink, whatever that is. It's got some interesting lyrics, that's for sure ("It's not who we blow, but who we blow off, let's loose ourselves in a pink cloud.")
14. "James Riot," Champion Hairpuller: Another Do The Collapse outtake, a mid-tempo rocker in lo-fi form. I can't understand any of the lyrics after "My name is James...", but I like it. A song that already has a following among fans, due to its appearance in a few live shows a while back; that following's likely to grow quickly now.
15. "It's Easy," Burns Carpenter: A brief, breezy little, acoustic shout out to "optimists on LSD," with a pretty chorus.
16. "Dank Star Ground Control," A A Bottom: A abstract drum poem over drums playing a war chant. Pollard sings all-over-the-place, about helicopters and forest fires. The song ends with everything "burning, all over the world."
17. "Spring Tigers," Crushed Being Groovy: One of my favorite GBV songs ever ("Spring Tiger") off one of my favorite GBV releases ever (the Get Out of My Stations 7"), but more rocking. It's still pretty cool., since this is such a pretty song, but I think the rock takes something away from it, makes it less dreamy. Some songs don't need to rock.
18. "Born on Seaweed," Rex Polaroyd: A gorgeous, weird acoustic song that would have been right at home on Not In My Airforce. Great lyrics: "He's a prick…and owns a fortress…born on horniness, born on time change…born on SEAWEED!" (with the last words rising up in an emotionally wrenching way). One of my favorites in the whole Suitcase; I can hear the crazy GBV fans yelling for this one at concerts already (like they won't be yelling for every song on here, even the thirty-second ones).
19. "Flesh Ears from June," Monkey Business: A great melody with not-so-great lyrics. From that reason it reminds me of some of R.E.M.'s Dead Letter Office tracks, songs that have elements of great songs but also awkward parts that make you wince a bit.
20. "Driving in the U.S. of A." Ghetto Blaster: Bob and Mitch driving a Mack truck through a sea of noise, screaming out the windows, being chased by metal clanking noises. This one scares me a little.
21. "My Big Day (3 Versions)," Turned Up Turner: Here's a great example of creativity in motion, three versions of the same song (a fourth is on the great Tractor Tunes Volume 1 compilation CD that came with the equally great fourth issue of the Fresh Cow Pie zine--see last issue's review). This isn't one of my favorite songs, but it's still interesting to see how it changes. The first version is slow and dark. In the second one the melody's showing up more but there's a bizarre guitar part and Pollard sounds half-asleep. In the third one the song's opened up with better lyrics and a Who-ish guitar intro. It's still not a shining rock anthem, but it is a unique little riff on regret.
22. "Have It Again," Maxwell Greenfield: Another song about regret and lingering over missed chances, this is a brief, straightforward little ditty. I love this one, especially for the one it builds on the relatively common "What would you give to be 9 or 10 again?" into "What would you give to be 19 or 20 again?" and (the kicker) "What would you give to be 49 or 50 again?" Pollard's imagination and weirder side is gone here, but it's a nice little portrait of how inevitable and wasteful looking back is.
23. "Little Jimmy the Giant," Little Bobby Pop: Speaking of looking back (are you noticing the between-song transitions here? this thing is not haphazardly put together. Great, yet another thing us fanatics have to look at), here's a song recorded when Bob was 20 years old (or so). It's a pretty little pop song about how his brother Jimmy's a giant when he puts on his boots. It's got one hell of a melody, better than just about anything on top 40 radio, which says something about the boundaries of Pollard's talent (or lack thereof) and how he directs it in particular directions, as he wishes. I'd imagine he can write goofy, catchy little numbers like this in his sleep, if he wanted to.
24. "Taco, Buffalo, Birddog and Jesus," Bozo's Octopuss: A classic Byrd-ish rock story/song that has a central place on any unofficial GBV "rarities" tape. It has a super melody and an odd spoken word part, where "Jesus blows the clouds away with one puff, falls back into his cage and goes to sleep."
25. "Ding Dong Daddy (Is Back from the Bank)," Mooshoo Wharf: Suitcase One closes with an odd bit where Bob takes on the voice of a 7-year-old girl who's just been drugged, while Tobin noodles on guitar in the background.