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click to enlarge Guided by Voices tribute album Keep It in Motion features several St. Louis bands and is conceived and curated by Matt Harnish of Bunnygrunt.  - THANKS TO EVAN SULT

Thanks to Evan Sult

Guided by Voices tribute album Keep It in Motion features several St. Louis bands and is conceived and curated by Matt Harnish of Bunnygrunt.

Although indie group Guided By Voices started out as a shuffling bar band, over the years it has become one of the tightest and most ferocious live bands in the country. It is also one of the most prolific and varied styles.

Robert Pollard and his varying circle of musicians have released more than 30 albums since their founding in 1983. Some say that if you add up all his solo records and side projects, he has written over 2,400 songs. The group’s other songwriter, Tobin Sprout, has contributed some wonderfully eccentric and folk-tinged songs to the discography. There are several incarnations of the band. Some records are lo-fi, others more polished.

You can find fans of Guided by Voices in the upper reaches of Hollywood and Washington, DC. You can find them in music clubs in America and Europe. As you might imagine, there are devoted Guided By Voice fans here in St. Louis, especially among the indie rock artists of our beautiful city.

Several of these bands – Trauma Harness, Sleepy Kitty, Finn’s Motel, Bunnygrunt – have chosen to pay tribute to Guided By Voices. Along with other indie rock artists from Texas, Virginia, New York City and the UK, they have contributed their spins on Guided By Voices songs to a new compilation Keep It in Motion: A Tribute to Guided by Voices Circa 20 Something and 12

It’s an effort that couldn’t have found a better audience than me.

Excuse me while I share my conversion story.

End of June in the Year of Our Lord 1994. I returned to the college town in the Midwest where I attended graduate school. I’ve only been gone for a year, but it’s essential that I stop by the three record stores in the pedestrian zone and ask the smart clerks what new music they’re excited about.

One of them gives me At Thousand by led by votes. I don’t even know where to start, he says.

Driving back to St. Louis, I slide At Thousand in my disc player. The first two tracks make me wonder if maybe this album was recorded in a laundry bathroom. Do the songs have to be this… short? Are these guys still learning to play their instruments?

Then tracks three, four and five (“Tractor Rape Chain”, “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”, “Hot Freaks”). I listen, go back and listen to those same three again. A nascent consciousness. Then a realization.

It’s not just that this Dayton, Ohio-based band plays music that stems from the British Invasion. It’s that they’ve taken British Invasion music and turned it into their own sprawling carnival. More importantly, the carnival is haunted in ways that are beautiful and creepy. Other songs on At Thousand prove beyond any doubt that, even with the lo-fi production, this band really rocks.

Listen to Keep it moving – so named after a 2012 single – over the course of a few weeks I recaptured some of my original conversion. I can happily report that it really rocks.

The album was conceived and curated by Matt Harnish of Bunnygrunt, who entered 2012 as an especially rich year for Guided By Voices – a year in which the band’s two songwriters, Pollard and Sprout, reunited and the original players got back together. . That year, Guided By Voices released three albums featuring some of the group’s best and arguably most overlooked songs.

Harnish wisely understood that it was far better to feature work from this era of the Guided By Voices catalog rather than cover classic albums, an endeavor that would have pleased no one in the end. He sent invitations to artists who shared his deep love for Guided By Voices. As soon as a band said yes, he encouraged them to choose which song to cover.

The result is a rich and vibrant collection. I was struck by Sleepy Kitty’s soaring, Lennon-esque version of “Blue Babbleships Bay” and by Good Grief’s skillful, pounding, melodic cover of “Doughnut For A Snowman/Chocolate Boy”. Many of the performers are channeling the sacred sound of Guided By Voices, while other performers — such as Franklin Bruno, bLUSH, and Charity Cult — indulge in synthy and satisfying reinterpretations. Bunnygrunt offers an agile, catchy version of Tobin Sprout’s “The Corners Are Glowing”. Let’s not forget that a Guided By Voices cover album should also be rowdy and fun. To that end, we get spicy covers from Trauma Harness and the cleverly named She Bee Vee.

Keep it moving features a knockout album cover by visual artist Jeff Hess. One of the perks of Guided By Voices albums is the artwork created by Robert Pollard, which takes the form of psychedelic collages. Hess’s Keep it moving cover combines iconic Big Wheels and folded laundry to great effect. The 12-inch vinyl comes with six additional collage covers from Guided By Voices-loving visual artists from around St. Louis and as far afield as Peru.

Both in art and music, Keep it moving is a party — created by passionate fans and sent out into the world to find other passionate fans. It’s very fitting that the album was born in St. Louis. Several of Guided By Voices’ best-known early albums came from Scat Records in our city. There’s a ghost in those Scat records that makes its way to Keep it moving: a willingness to take the stage, wear the psychedelic wardrobe, make all the grand gestures of the British Invasion rock and roll. In short, live the one and only dream.

Keep It in Motion: A Tribute to Guided by Voices Circa 20 Something and 12 is available for download, and for vinyl pre-order, on Bandcamp.

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