Guided by Voices’ productivity, aesthetic and record-it-then-write-it methodology have inevitably influenced some impressionable youth, and Kleenex Girl Wonder’s Graham Smith is one of them. A young Illinois song-machine, Smith started out as a virtual Robert Pollard clone — tracks on the band’s eight-song debut seven-inch like “Roosevelt Agrees” and “The Other Dark Shaped Pentagon” could have come straight off Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer, and the whole disc fluctuates between tunefulness and pointlessness.
By Long Live the Pelican Express, the “band” had basically become a Smith solo recording project (with a drum machine) — he claims to have written and recorded nearly all of these six untitled songs in one day. But a gift for melody is starting to reveal itself — one song (whose chorus is something about a “smiling mackerel kid”) is almost brutally catchy, and the rest aren’t far behind.
The first full-length KGW album, Sexual Harassment, is hit-or-miss — it seems to be all first drafts — but, oh, what hits. Smith uses synths and drum machines more, and he knows how to make crafty hooks out of them (check out the delightful, burbly “Wireless”). And his moments of silliness are generally funny (the relentless three-chord title track and its reprise) rather than stonerishly random. The album’s pleasantly varied, too, with each track presenting a new recording timbre and instrumental texture.
Smith’s sense of humor is in full effect on Graham Smith Is the Coolest Person Alive. “Five Minutes” is an anthemic rocker basically written so that the live lineup of the band can take a sound engineer’s demand (“five minutes, guys”) as a request (“Five more minutes to rock/Five more minutes to roll…”). The album was in the works for an awfully long time (during which Smith is rumored to have written hundreds of songs) and, once again, it’s a consistently catchy cross-section of what KGW can do, from confident Merseybeat-via-GBV (“The Bostonians”) to quirky little synth tunes (“You Need Me”).