I first heard “Vampire on Titus”, Guided By Voices’ 6th album,
between the releases of “Alien Lanes” and “Under The Bushes Under the Stars,”
which were albums eight and nine respectively.
“Alien Lanes” was the first album from the band I heard
and it began my obsession with the band.
After that, I had to have everything the band released.
I had no idea of the length and scope of GBV’s recorded output,
so when I ran across “Box” which was my next purchase along with
“The Grand Hour” ep, I thought perhaps with “Box”,
I was instantly up to date with the band.
In 1996 it was a big deal when in Kailua-Kona Hawaii,
we got a Borders Bookstore, which only lasted about ten years,
thanks to Amazon.
I made my first two GBV purchases at J&R Music,
which closed soon after Borders opened.
Opening day at Borders I rushed to see if they had any Guided By Voices CDs.
I couldn’t believe it, not only was there a Guided By Voices section,
but there were albums I’ve never seen, and I thought I had everything.
They had everything I had already plus, “Propeller”, “Vampire on Titus”, both as a twofer
and “Bee Thousand”.
I bought “Propeller” and “Vampire on Titus”.
I remember my thinking at the time,
I didn’t want the twofer because, I wanted to get the individual albums on cd,
for the artwork,
but looking back I wish I had gotten the twofer,
because now it’s hard to find and I can get the individual CDs anytime.
But at the time, I had no idea if I’d see these CDs again.
You must keep in mind,
this was before the internet became what it is today,
and I had yet to discover gbv.com.
Anyways, my plan was to come back the next week and pick up
Well, that plan got slightly derailed.
“Alien Lanes” to me was the perfect album,
The songs from start to finish fit together like a well-balanced puzzle,
segueing from one great song to another.
I know many will disagree with me,
But I always thought “Alien Lanes” was a progressive jump for the band,
in both performance and song writing.
Yes, I love “Bee Thousand” too, but I find “Alien Lanes” better while retaining the lo-fi ethos.
The Lo-Fi sound is among the many traits that first attracted me to the band.
After the whole Grunge Thing,
Lo-fi was a welcome relief to Grunge,
especially since most of the main players of the genre were gone,
sold-out, being heavily copied or on the verge of breaking up.
It kind of reminds me of the late 70’s,
When the rock bands of the 70’s were fading, and Punk Rock came along.
Guided By Voices with Lo-Fi, were like the D.I.Y. thing of the 70’s-80’s Punk era.
First thing I did when coming home from Borders with
“Propeller” and “Vampire on Titus” was to dub them to cassette,
because I didn’t have a cd player in my truck,
or I would have listened to them on my way home from Borders.
As I was listening to the CDs,
I was shocked by the ultra lo-fi-ness of the albums,
especially “Vampire on Titus”.
The lo-fi recordings of “Vampire on Titus” makes “Alien Lanes” by
comparison look like “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
The vocals seemed to be recorded off-mic,
the drums sound like someone pounding on one drum
and other songs sound like they were recorded with a toy keyboard.
Sure, I thought “Propeller” was good at first listen,
but being I listened to both albums one after another at the same sitting
and “Vampire on Titus” was the last I heard of the two,
I wasn’t really sure what I thought of both albums.
So, this is what I did,
I hope Bob isn’t listening,
I returned both CDs to Borders and got a refund.
For the Rest…of the Story…
All this time I’m still listening to “Alien Lanes” like a fanatic.
I’m the type of person that if I like a record or a song,
I will listen to it multiple times, sometimes right after listening to it.
You have no idea how many times I’ve been told,
“You’re going to play that again?!!”
So, I was still into the band.
One day I decided to listen to the tape in my work truck,
I really wanted to give the albums another chance.
I put the cassette in the player of my work truck and gave it a listen,
thinking, alright it’s a little better than I thought,
then I went to eject the tape and it wouldn’t come out.
Problem was I recorded the two albums on a used cassette
that had the tabs that prevent erasing, taped over with scotch tape.
The scotch tape caused the cassette to be stuck in the tape deck.
There were a few weeks that all I heard from my work truck’s stereo
was “Propeller” and “Vampire on Titus”.
Of course, I grew to love both albums, even “Vampire on Titus”.
As soon as I came to that revelation, I went back to Borders,
both CDs were still there, re-shrink wrapped.
I bought them both back and “Bee Thousand” too.
But there are things about “Vampire on Titus” that I still don’t understand to this day,
and I’d really like to interview Bob on the subject,
or have someone else ask him about certain choices he made for this album.
1. Being that this was the band’s first album to be released to the general public
through a “real” record label, wouldn’t it be better to put their “best foot forward”
and perhaps get a real drummer and perhaps sing on mic, while still retaining
the lo-fi sound?
2. Some of the songs were released on eps with more of a “band” sound,
why were lesser, demo-like recordings included instead?
3. Now with hind-site we know by the “Suitcase” series, that there were
plenty of great songs around this time, that could have easily been included
on “Vampire on Titus” to substitute some of the weaker tracks.
As a matter of fact, some of the tracks on “Vampire on Titus”
would fit comfortably in the “Suitcase” series itself.
With “Propeller” which was supposed to be the bands last album,
Bob decided to put what he considered to be his best songs,
because he figured it would be the last GBV album.
He even made multiple versions of “Propeller”,
with different tracks and song orders till he settled on the finished album.
So being the band was getting a new lease on life,
why wouldn’t he do the same?
Perhaps because of prior disappointments he didn’t want to build his hopes up,
to the point that he didn’t bother to put a real band together during the recording
of the album.
Or it could have been the strategy of Not starting out on a high note,
and out doing yourself as you go.
Which seems possible.
The vision I get every time I hear “Wished I Was a Giant” is of
Peter Gabriel walking through his neighborhood and coming across
some kids playing in a garage band, and recording vocals with them
This was instantly a favorite of mine and a great album opener.
It’s so great watching the band perform this on the “Watch Me Jumpstart” video.
Decades ago, I was given a tape to make a copy of before returning,
apparently it was a dub of an early version of “Propeller” called
“Corpselike Sleep of Stupidity”, it featured songs that ended up on
eps and future albums, some in different forms.
Some to this day that haven’t been released.
Among them is an instrumental version of “#2 In The Model Home Series”,
here on “Vampire on Titus” Bob adds a vocal to the track.
“Expecting Brainchild” is a great heavy thrasher,
with the hilarious intro,
“Bob, would you and Living Praise Choir lead us in
“To God Be The Glory”?
“Superior Sector Janitor X” is a cool little acoustic number
that sounds like it was recorded in a empty steel water tank.
Tobin Sprout’s “Donkey School” is beautifully damaged,
with Tobin’s vocal and acoustic guitar against the chaos
of what’s going on in the background.
“Dusted” and “Marchers in Orange” were both included on the ep,
“Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” in much different versions.
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure which versions I like better.
I’m just glad that Bob gave us both.
“Sot” is another Tobin Sprout gem,
though his vocals are buried in the loud guitars,
the Tobin charm shines through.
I love “Jar of Cardinals” but this is a song that deserves a full band version,
I’ve heard it on live recordings to much better results,
the version here is good, but not what it could be.
“Unstable Journey” is a noisy rocker that would be a great live song,
which apparently the band never played live.
Tobin’s “Gleemer (The Deeds Of Fertile Jim)” is another gem,
there is a mournful joy to Tobin’s songs that gives me chills,
“Wondering Boy Poet” is one of my favorite songs of Bob’s,
it rivals Lennon/McCartney’s songwriting.
But I thought the version here is lacking the charm of the piano version
included on the first “Suitcase” box set,
which I believe was recorded for the 1996 BBC session with John Peel.
“Non-Absorbing” to me is kind of a preview of “Bee Thousand”
and probably the one song on “Vampire on Titus” that the band performed
live more than any song from the album.
There are a few weaker tracks on the album,
that Bob could have easily replaced with better songs,
that appeared on eps that the band released.
But no matter,
“Vampire on Titus” was the first step in making the band known to the public.
Causing Bob to get together an actual band, play shows,
and gathering attention which made GBV the legends they are today.
The cover art perfectly depicts the albums sound,
roughly cut, pasted together and slightly off-center.
But multiple listens to this album reveals its true brilliance,
that those with less patience for this sort of thing,
will probably miss out on.
I would not recommend this for first time Guided By Voices listeners,
because it might scare them off.
But it is a Must, for any “Real” GBV fan.