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Somebody Feels Better By Your Words
Zeppet Store: Singles and Rare 1994-2001
When I said I would stop buying Guided by Voices records, two and a half years ago, it wasn't a rhetorical device. I really haven't bought another one since. I haven't kept up with how many new ones there are, or under what names. I haven't cheated by downloading, I haven't supported the enterprise in any way. But I already had a lot of GbV records, and there they still sat on my shelves. Cutting apart your past accomplishes nothing. Whatever unsupportable things I eventually decided to attribute to Robert Pollard, he made Bee Thousand and another dozen or two albums and EPs that changed some of the ways I understand music. Every few months I needed more shelf space for something else, and although I sacrificed lots of GbV side-projects long ago, time after time the core collection held its spot.
I moved the GbV records off the main shelves into the reference vault last weekend. Sometimes the hard decisions just haven't become easy yet. It was time. I needed space in the Gs for Glay and globe, and poor dear Eliza Gilkyson already gave herself for the cause, so it was either GbV or Gyllene Tider, and in my house Per almost always wins. Repeatedly postponing the GbV demotion had invested it with significance, but in the end that only made it clearer. I have been learning, however fitfully, to change things in my life. Finite display-storage limits are a nuisance, but value decisions are opportunities for growth. It turns out that growth often involves subtraction. Subtraction goes in stages, admittedly, and my GbV records are only in boxes, not gone. Not yet.
At the last moment, I considered leaving just Bee Thousand on the shelf. I have resisted splitting artists, in general, but clearly there's no good reason for that, double especially in a case where I've specifically renounced completism. But moving all of them felt better. I haven't listened to Bee Thousand in those two and a half years, so whatever it continues means to me, it is meaning by inertia rather than presence, and some record I might actually reach for deserves its slot.
Maybe this sacrifice, small but symbolic, was in part possible because some of what Bee Thousand stands for, to me, I have transferred. GbV refracted ebullient pop into kaleidoscope shards, and although Bee Thousand broke at least as much song structure as arrangement and production convention, in my inherently fragmented memory fragmented songs may as well have been whole. The GbV choruses I sing to myself are ragged, but ring where the real ones more often cut off. Part of me understands that I have adapted them to my needs, and the real Bee Thousand I just moved to the vault doesn't contain the Bee Thousand I now hear in my head, anyway.
And the Bee Thousand I hear in my head, in fact, roars out of the first two songs of this career retrospective of what must temporarily be my vote for the greatest rock band I still know this little about, Zeppet Store. "lacerate your brain" is from 1994's swing, slide, sandpit, their indie debut; "FLAKE" is from the 1996 follow-up, 716. The drums boom and rattle unsteadily, the guitars buzz like they're coming through the wall, the singer sounds like he's holding the lyrics up to dim basement light. I hear Translator behind them and Saturnine ahead, which is another way of placing them along the line Pollard traced from the Byrds and REM. Words swirl elusively, like Stipe used to sing them, and the songs lurch along behind, like a novice metal band learning pop from faded sheet music. If Bee Thousand was dream chaos, then Zeppet Store began as the moment of fleeting coherence just as you awake. And when a guitar solo materializes out of the murk towards the end of "FLAKE", my heart leaps, and maybe GbV was never really mine. "I don't want just anyone", they hoarsely admit, and I know that I will take two of these sweet, simple truths over a hundred of Pollard's blimps and robots and elves. I know that GbV were a paradigmatic cult-band, and maybe still aren't a whole lot better known, and suggesting that you replace them with a band that even the GbV-aware probably haven't heard of is obscurism bordering on virulence, but I can't really help that. I don't remember how I found them, but they are real to me now. And if you never bought any GbV records, either, then it will cost you nothing to switch to not buying Zeppet Store albums.
Zeppet Store eventually signed with LEMONed, which got them major-label distribution (first through Universal, then Toshiba) for the four albums whose singles make up the rest of this collection. You will not find those records in American stores, nor this compilation by their new label, Virgin. Global corporations have not yet brought us a global culture, which is logistically inconvenient but probably otherwise profoundly merciful. Zeppet Store are Japanese, which provides a more mundane explanation for the difficult-to-follow vocal delivery of the English lyrics to the two indie songs. For their major-label work they switch back to singing in Japanese, spiked with the occasional English chorus interjection and the usual weird predominance of all-caps English song titles. The first LEMONed album, 1997's Cue, inches away from their indie roots only slowly. "Koe" ("Voice", one of the few Japanese titles), plays little MBV-ish guitar swells under a wistfully becalmed melody. "TO BE FREE" bounds and slashes, the yelped chorus morphed unintentionally into "To be f'real!" by the absence of atomic "fr" sounds in Japanese. The ringing "SUPERSTITION" produces the oddly uplifting phrase "Superstation on my mind", amidst splashing cymbals, rumbling kettle drums and obliquely shimmery guitars.
By 1999's Clutch, Zeppet Store has grown up noticeably, or at least had help buying new clothes. Seizi Kimura has learned to sing well enough that I begin to suspect the early production was more wrong than I guessed. The production gives each instrument a place of its own, which either reveals or encourages better songwriting discipline, and the overall aesthetic begins to resemble BUMP OF CHICKEN and earlier Glay a lot more than any phase of GbV. "Don't Ask Me Why" is pretty and unhurried, uncurling into its guitar-underscored choruses with expansive elegance, and twirling out of the back of them in a falsetto flutter. "Loop" rides a timeless descending-chord rock riff into an arching chorus and yearning organ-sigh bridges. "ROSE" introduces a clicky drum-machine, sweeping mock-strings and jangling acoustic guitars, and wanders towards power-ballad. "Itsu made mo" means "Forever", which you might have guessed without translation. The brash, braying "PRIDE ONE" is an interruption from a between-albums EP, but "Motto Motto" ("More, More") relaxes into a warmly clattery blur, and "Touku Made", although not the grand Do As Infinity song, still opens up and soars into sunset silhouette.
Studio-toy games begin to infiltrate the production in earnest by 2000's GOOSEFLESH. "EMOTION" opens with chopped drum- and guitar-loops straight out of a Manic Street Preachers remix, before surging into clanging catharsis. Japanese is blessed with a three-syllable idiomatic word for "therefore", "dakara", which makes for a great between-verse 2-3-4 count-off conjunction. "Mayoi mo tsumi mo, kono mune ni tsukisashite yo", they plead, which means something like "Confusion and crime, stab into this chest!", maybe. "Can you see me? Can you see me?" they repeat through the urgent "DISTANCE", which flits in and out of loop-goaded jitter. And "PRESENCE" hands the rhythm to the loops, and sways from acoustic hush to electric swarm with an aplomb that boy bands would envy. "PARANOID", the b-side from the "PRESENCE" single, seems like the only real justification for the "Rare" in the title, so at least it sounds anomalous, a sprongy first-take-ish impression of Blur's "Song 2" by way of the Hives.
There are only two songs from the 2001 album DINO, one the strident, fractured "TIGHTROPE", the other the dense, spectral, alternately cinematic and stentorian "SEEK OUT". Zeppet Store's stepwise path, trivial to trace through the other albums, washes out as we near the present, and it's hard to guess what became of them.
Zeppet Store: SLICK
No guessing is necessary, though, as the collection serves as long preface to Virgin's release of SLICK, the next studio album, which is what became of them. If Glay have peeled away into atmospheric restraint, Zeppet Store offer at least initial consolation by refocusing on splaying guitars and indefatigable pogo-y bounce. "DO IT AGAIN" slams straight into careening guitar hooks, hanging transfixed half-pipe-ish half-stops just in order to have something to crash back down from. "COME ALIVE", one of three songs here in English (however hilariously rendered), strips down to driving guitar pulses and crisp kick-snare drums, and might have as much chance at pop cross-over as Jimmy Eat World if it weren't for the culture barrier. "PUZZLE" subtly recasts a cheerfully spare three-chord anthem with nothing more intrusive than a little drum syncopation. And "DESTINY" stacks chiming guitars on top of white-noise kick-drums like a soundtrack-idyll bid.
I only know the earlier material through the best-of, so I have no idea what variation the selective sample conceals. "Winter Song" may thus not be the first true Zeppet Store slow song, but it's my first. Weepy slide-guitar curves down, and the band waltzes dreamily into the mid-album fade-out farewell like there are still side-ones to end. "GOLDEN HILL" restarts gradually, guitar snarl pushing an otherwise Travis-like piece towards Kent. But "Walk Away" demures again, twitchy drums and slashing choruses not enough to cut all the way through the gauzy verses.
The album finally does switch gears, though, essentially exhuming and cursorily rewriting the b-side "PARANOIA" as the identically-inclined new song "HEADLINE". This proves to be only transitional, though, as "HERO" reverts to affectionate anthemic pomp, transplanting the guitar spasms from Radiohead's "Creep" into an airy rock lullaby closer to "Anyone Can Play Guitar". The wistful "C Moon" sheds slow-motion flourishes, edging towards Glay after all, and the drifting "HEAVEN" completes the costume change by sounding rather unnervingly like Glay, maybe missing only an a cappella gospel coda. This is a weird way to replace Guided by Voices, something on the order of substituting U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" for the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" on the grounds that both groups once did songs called "Gloria", but I think for me that's actually the point. There's not much GbV left in Zeppet Store by SLICK, but if I wanted more, I'd have lived my life differently. It's essential to remember, but maybe just as important to not remember too much.
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