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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guyville Redux

So one of my favorite albums of all time is getting the deluxe treatment in a couple of weeks: Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville". My love for this album is too big to measure. It's simply one of the most unique and important albums to come out in the last 15 years.
"Exile in Guyville" also holds a unique position in my music fandom. As a music obsessive, if I love an artist or an album, I must own everything they've ever released. That's just they way it goes... I love The Pixies first two albums, so now I have all their BBC collections and live albums and even a bootleg from a Boise, Idaho show that I didn't attend. I love Morrissey, so I own all his solo albums (some of which are awful), his singles box sets and about 4 of his greatest-hits albums. Crap, I have probably 10 Boris CD's and I can seriously only LISTEN to two of them. It's a curse. But it's not like that with Liz Phair. I hold absolutely no affinity or "special place in my heart" for her, and I have no interest in owning any of her other albums (which I've heard suck to varying degrees). "Guyville" is enough for me. "Guyville" is so perfect, so pure, that it cannot be tainted by her other works. It is all I need from her.
Here's some details on the reissue, which is coming with a couple bonus tracks and an interesting doc about "Guyville" directed by the author herself, Liz Phair. I have read articles about Liz Phair about how she has been haunted by the greatness of "Guyville", and how she has tried to repeat it but hasn't come close since. Well this doc looks like she's about to exorcise some of these demons for our viewing pleasure.

From Stereogum:

If the bonus tracks, the new liner notes, or your general love for early '90s nostalgia aren't enough for you to put down for the 15th Anniversary re-release of Exile In Guyville, maybe an hour's worth of Liz talking to cool guys about Guyville on location in studios and rooms with bongs will do it. It's called Guyville Redux, it's a look at working through the guy-dominated Chicago indie scene of the time, and it's included in the re-release package. Liz produced and directed the 60 minute sort-of-documentary, because she is feeling creative again, and kudos to her: having Steve Albini say "You had become exactly precisely, what we hated all along" makes for promising viewing. Here's a trailer, which features interviews with the aforementioned Albini, Exile producer Brad Wood, Chicago roots guys John Cusack and Ira Glass (a former Northwestern student), Matador's Gerard Cosloy, and Urge Overkill's Nash Kato. Oh and an intro from ATO honcho Dave Matthews, supervising the project and making sure Liz is cutting the corners of her loose ends, loose ends.

So it's that, the CD, the Alan Light-penned liner notes, the unreleased Guyville session tracks "Ant in Alaska," "Wild Thing," "Say You," and an untitled instrumental, all of which can be yours when the Exile In Guyville reissue is out 6/24 via D. Matthews' ATO label.

And while I'm at it, my girl Carrie Brownstein wrote about "Guyville" at length on her blog (best blog ever) last month, and it was excellent. I couldn't express it better myself, so I'm gonna post her article here.

Exiled, Again
by Carrie Brownstein

In June, ATO records will release a special 15th Anniversary edition of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. Originally conceived as a response to The Rolling Stones' Exile on Mainstreet, Phair's Exile became something of a classic in its own right.

In 1993 I moved to Olympia, Washington to attend college. The Northwest was full of incendiary bands in the early 1990s. Some of the sounds were heard around the globe, others remained stubbornly underground, festering and smoldering, creating an incognito hysteria and inspiring offshoots. There was twee and lo-fi, angular post-punk, emo, metal, riot grrl, noise--most of it eager, breathless and frenzied. For months, I rarely saw or listened to a world outside of Olympia. If I wanted to see bands from London or DC, New York or LA, they would play in basements and be sucked into the smallness of the town, if only for a night. Olympia was part of a series of remote satellites sending signals back and forth, sharing information and secrets.

It was within this context, this feeling that everything important had a line drawn around it and that my town was inside that imaginary border, that I first heard Liz Phair. She crashed through the insularity, with no clear alliance to one music scene, writing from the periphery of her own. I was at a friend's house, he was making us dinner and he put on the album. The fact that I remember any details at all about what my friend was cooking, what we wore, the layout of this small apartment--those memories only exist because of Exile in Guyville. Otherwise, it would have been just another night. I was 19.

The first thing I noticed about Liz Phair was the voice. She wasn't screaming, she wasn't being cloying, she wasn't an amazing singer, but there was something serious about the vocals, something deadly. Part of it was the flatness; the strange deadpan delivery, like someone is singing on their back, like they woke up one night and decided they'd had enough and so they made an album. But the songs weren't victim anthems just like they weren't merely come-ons; they spoke of the fine lines between power and powerlessness, autonomy and isolation, they depicted epiphanies and the subsequent letdowns. The album was a journey vacillating between interior and exterior landscapes, the lyrics evoking halcyon moments always on the verge of implosion, either by the author's own hand or by someone they loved. And the album was drenched in desire, of wanting and of wanting out.

Exile in Guyville was a brave and gutsy album and Liz Phair made herself an island out of it. Some critics and fans dove in to the waters, swimming to save her, to woo her, to worship her, while others hung her out to dry. Maybe it was the sheer audacity of the album, coming at a time when many indie music statements--particularly those being made by women--were more strident, they clawed out a space with volume and rebellion The sphere Phair created was murkier, it was inviting but also treacherous.

I don't know if it was the weight of the endeavor, or the fact that those of us over a certain age couldn't escape this album if we tried, but Exile in Guyville's presence is still felt after all these years. I admit to not having followed Phair much since the mid 90s, but listening to Exile again, I think it just might qualify as a monster of rock.

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