It’s hard to differentiate this odds and sods collection of demos, outtakes, and stray tracks from a proper Guided By Voices album. Because isn’t that what this band is all about? They throw anything and everything onto their records. Any late night song idea quickly strummed into a cheap cassette recorder will surely find its way onto an album at some point – it might even be their next single. Or it might end up on a Robert Pollard solo album or one of the endless side projects (see GBVDB.com) that all bear his unique – if challenging – sort of genius.
Tonics And Twisted Chasers was a limited edition fan club release that marked the final collaboration between Pollard and Tobin Sprout under the GBV banner until the reformation in 2010. I suspect these were demos intended for the next album that was scrapped and ultimately re-recorded with new material and backing band (1997’s Mag Earwig!) As such, it’s an uneven affair with some tossed off, half-baked ideas thrown in among the stronger tracks. And yes, that last sentence just described every Guided By Voices album ever. But this is one of the best from their mid-90’s peak period, a Whitman’s Sampler of catchy, unconventional, poorly recorded GBV greatness.
“Dayton, Ohio 19-Something-And-5″ is an indie rock anthem of the sort that really belongs on a 7” single, like one of the many great ones this band has in its catalog. You want to go find some little upstairs record shop to get this single, or trek across snow covered mountains or fields of the Pharaoh’s plagues – that was the sort of stuff we had to do back before the internet. But this song is worth it. It’s a summer anthem: “Isn’t it great to exist at this point in time?” “Look, It’s Baseball” is a mini-song that works so well with the GBV formula – a short, sweet acoustic tune about a father bringing his child to the game for the first time. The demo of “Knock ‘Em Flyin'” is not as well realized as the full band version on Mag Earwig!, but it’s a uniquely Pollard sort of composition with the irregular chord structures and dissonant vocals brushing up against moments of real melodic grace. And it only lasts one minute four seconds. “Ha Ha Man” sounds like a one take basement jam, but it’s a neat one, the sad lament of the bar clown. And “Key Losers” is a GBV classic – an acoustic anthem with a stately chord progression and characteristic celebration of the underdog lyrics: “They will let you down every time/The key losers.”
Some of these tracks sound similar to the excellent Pollard and Sprout collaboration project Airport 5, which used drum machines and Sprout’s spidery guitar figures to go along with Bob’s insanely catchy melodies. I would highly recommend the Airport 5 albums, which are as good if not better than the other GBV or Pollard solos of the 2000’s. But Tonics and Twisted Chasers is a really cool collection, the last crest of the band’s big wave of the mid 90’s. Of course, the peak of this period is 1995’s classic Alien Lanes, but this relatively unknown collection is nearly as good.