Liz Phair

Girly-Sound to Guyville

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Girly-Sound -- the name of a series of three cassettes Liz Phair released after graduating from Oberlin in 1990 -- is essential to Phair's legacy, the music that led her to her 1993 breakthrough, Exile in Guyville. Despite its centrality, the songs were doled out slowly, either re-recorded for Exile or its sequels, Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg, or appearing as B-sides or bonus tracks as late as the 15th Anniversary reissue of her debut in 2008. All of this makes Girly-Sound to Guyville -- ostensibly the deluxe 25th Anniversary reissue of Exile in Guyville -- such a noteworthy release. Available in a variety of packages, including CDs and LPs, Girly-Sound to Guyville presents remastered versions of Exile and the three Girly-Sound tapes: Yo Yo Buddy Yup Yup Word to Ya Muthuh, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Sooty. Many of these tracks (but not all) have been bootlegged, and they've certainly never sounded as good as they do here. Although the remastering is noteworthy, it's not as noteworthy as the tapes themselves. When heard as a piece, Girly-Sound feels simultaneously alien and familiar, evoking the pre-Nirvana indie rock landscape of the early '90s when it was possible to hide away at home and indulge in an art project such as this. What's striking about the Girly-Sound tapes is how affectless they are: Phair certainly is cracking wise and playing with pop culture (it's striking how many songs here rework familiar melodies), but there is no sense of performance, no sense she's intending these songs for an audience larger than herself. Consequently, the Girly-Sound tapes almost carry a sense of outsider art, if it weren't for Phair's astonishing songcraft and deliberate artiness, elements that keep this lo-fi music compelling decades later. Much of the spooky sparseness of Girly-Sound was stripped away on Exile in Guyville, which in this context feels big, bold, and colorful -- not the beginning of something, but rather the culmination of fearless bedroom exploration. When paired, it's impossible to deny that both Exile and Girly-Sound retain their artful power: What's amazing about this reissue is, it points out how distinct those two projects are.

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