What I am about to say is going to sound impossibly stupid to some of you but I suspect there are at least a handful of you, Dear Readers, who will get what I’m saying here: in some ways, an album somehow seems “more real” when it gets released on long playing vinyl records (as compared to a tiny CD, a download or a stream). While I can get into an album released on Blu-ray Disc, that usually has a high resolution audio (often surround sound) component as well as visuals you watch on your big screen TV to complement the experience. But the vinyl thing… its stature is palpable as the physical embodiment of music… at least for some of us! I’ve written about this a bit here previously (click here). Those of us who grew up with vinyl and still appreciate the nuance, grace and quirks of the format will get what I’m saying.
All that said… the sudden appearance of certain recordings on vinyl which for the most part initially existed as Compact Discs for the vast majority of us, the buying public, is often a revelation.
Such is the case with the new vinyl reissue of Guided By Voices’ Half Smiles Of The Decomposed, their “swan song” release to the much celebrated break up in 2004 (they have since reformed in a couple different incarnations, but that is another story). This is an album which, frankly, I never even knew had a vinyl release and I certainly had never seen a copy anywhere…
My personal caveat to Half Smiles Of The Decomposed admittedly skewed my initial impression of this album: You see, I was just getting seriously into Guided By Voices (GBV) right around the time this album was released in 2004. So I was genuinely bummed out to find them splitting up! I had this album on CD and certain tracks jumped out at me, but for the most part I overlooked this album. It fell flat for me at the time — perhaps subconsciously I saw it as a contractual obligation record — and I focused on reaching back deeper into their catalog.
It was thus a happy rediscovery to find Half Smiles Of The Decomposed reissued by Matador. It is pressed on nice, dead quiet, well centered standard weight (but not flimsy) red vinyl complete with the original gatefold sleeve design. Yes, it was released on vinyl back in the day but as with much of GBV’s catalog these editions were hard to come by and are now much sought after and expensive collectors items). This is the first time it has appeared on colored vinyl apparently and is a limited run of 1700 copies.
Returning to my opening statements, somehow I am taking this album much more seriously now that I am hearing it on vinyl. Maybe it is the warming effect of my trusty Bellari tube pre-amp. Maybe it is the distinct sense of album sides and the need to flip it that is giving me cause to pause and better consider the music. Maybe it is just that I have internalized my CD listening over the years so that I can really appreciate how beautiful a song like “Window Of My World” sounds on vinyl.
When I came back to Half Smiles Of The Decomposed I was reminded how much I liked songs like the album opener “Everyone Thinks I’m A Rainbow (When I’m Not Looking)” and quirky tracks like “Asia Minor” (which feels like its from lost Who album, somewhere between Sell Out and Tommy). “A Second Spurt Of Growth” is a sweet and pensive mostly acoustic guitar and vocal tune with soft synthesizer backing.
Half Smiles Of The Decomposed is a surprisingly rich listen…
“It’s a grower,” as they say…
Of course, these being Ye Olde 21st Century Tymes, some of you may be wondering if Half Smiles Of The Decomposed is streaming on services like Tidal and Qobuz? The answer is a resounding: Yes! Click here for Tidal and here for Qobuz. Both versions are CD quality (44.1 kHz, 16-bit) and sound pretty solid all things considered (nothing super harsh is jumping out at me in terms of digital anomalies and other artifacts that might impact enjoyment of the music).
While you are exploring streaming GBV, do poke around as both services have most of their catalog. And there are a LOT of GBV albums! For the unitiated newbie GBV listener, this could be both exciting (“OMG, so much new music to discover!”) and daunting (“OMG, so much new music to discover!”). If the quantity is off-putting for some of you, GVB’s early greatest hits compilation — Human Amusements at Hourly Rates – The Best of Guided By Voices — is an excellent place to begin (click here for Qobuz and here for Tidal).
Indeed, “The Club Is Open” 24-7 for GBV streaming. Once you get hooked you may well find yourself listening ’round the clock. There are worse fates in life!