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Holy Hell! House of GVSB Turns 20

Holy Hell! House of GVSB Turns 20

This is great contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, the kind that never dies.

Has it been that long? It’s hard to tell listening to “TheKindaMzkYouLike” which rolls along with all the obnoxious bravado of an entitled millennial. It’s difficult to analyze the appeal of House of GVSB, a record that ranked among the top 20 “Albums of the Year” in both SPIN and Kerrang! magazines, among many others. It’s difficult because its appeal cannot be pinned to a single factor, such as Scott McCloud’s distinct and unusual vocal delivery, Alexis Fleisig’s particularly aggressive drumming style, or the treatment of rock and roll as though it were a serpent charmed and tamed into a rhythm.

All of these things came together in what we can now look back on as a timeless record that sounds as though it could have been made and released yesterday rather than 1996. It holds up not just well but entirely — there is nothing about it that’s dated, from the quality of production to the style of the songwriting. That’s because it was unlike anything else at the time and it’s still unlike anything else. Nobody is doing this thing… nobody was in 1996 and nobody is now. Why?

In those days, everyone in rock ‘n’ roll was aiming for grunge or alternative — as broad and difficult to pinpoint as those terms are. But perhaps it’s that broad spectrum of genres which allowed such an unusual band with an unusual sound to coalesce for a fairly considerable run. House of GVSB was their fourth album, which is remarkable considering it was probably the first time much of the general public would hear of them. The weight of opening track “Super-Fire,” with its urgency and post-apocalyptic disco-in-crisis sound introduced them to a brand new audience. Sliding easily from loud, winding guitar flourishes to tricky, funk-inspired wah-wah pedal and groove, the album gave pundits and critics the opportunity they needed to say, “Here is something with which you could blow up the dance floor without sacrificing your desire to wear plaid and navel-gaze.”

Soul Coughing was treading very similar territory on Irresistible Bliss, bringing together keyboard samplers, spoken-word or beat-poet stylized singing style and heavy grooves. But it was far too clean. But Girls Against Boys did them one better with their shaggy, laid-back and sloppy sound. Fleisig isn’t playing the drums, he’s banging them. “Life in Pink” consists of nothing other than a noodling double-time picking played through that same wah-wah pedal, a staple for much of the record.

“Crash 17 (X-Rated Car)” is a straight-ahead, dance-floor friendly rock song which occasionally breaks down long enough for some pronounced bass dirge and falsetto soul backing vocals by Eli Janney. That falsetto proved a perfect juxtaposition for the low 400-packs-a-day rasp of McCloud.

The three albums prior were pretty good. All of them raised interest in the band and received the critical acclaim they deserved. When House of GVSB emerged, it received just as much praise, often being simply noted as another great record from a band that seemed to be on a winning streak. The streak would stop after this album, and it wasn’t until 2013’s The Ghost List that they would emerge again with this experimental sound. Once again, they were praised by the critics who welcomed them back with gusto. The EP wasn’t so much a return to form as an easily recognizable celebration of a sound that hadn’t changed. They’d been living in a time capsule all along, and yet you’d be hard pressed to identify when they had entered.

Those few people lucky enough to have appreciated the stoner-dance-rock phenomenon of House of GVSB in its day are also lucky enough to be able to still appreciate it today, 20 years later. More than any other records from that period it’s not just great as a symbol of nostalgia. This is great contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, the kind that never dies.

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