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Pilot to Gunner: Games at High Speeds

Adam Dlugacz

Pilot to Gunner

Games at High Speeds

Label: Rykodisc
US Release Date: 2003-03-04
UK Release Date: 2003-03-03

This is not a new Pilot to Gunner album. Rather, it is the re-release of their debut full length put out by New Jersey based indie label Gern Blandsten in 2001. The re-release of Games at High Speeds begs two questions: Is it any good? Why did it need to be re-issued? The answer to the former is rather simple, yes. The answer to the later is a bit more complicated.

Games at High Speeds is the album that Atlantic thought they were going to get when they plucked Jawbox from Dischord's ranks (for those who don't know who Jawbox is, think At the Drive In without the afros and a more controlled sound). Instead, Atlantic wound up with For Your Own Special Sweetheart, a magnificent album that was guaranteed not to receive any serious airplay. By sharing Jawbox's sense of dynamics but not their "go where no band has gone before" spirit, Pilot to Gunner would have been much more palatable to the radio listening public.

Games at High Speeds opens with the stop-start-stop guitars of "Every Minute Is a Movie". On the second track, "We Got Games at High Speeds", the band's penchant for hooks shines through. While the song begins with some neat guitar and bass interplay, they both give way to anthemic riffing that belies the bands true intentions. The best thing about this re-release is the bonus track, "Action Items", a song that is catchy enough to be the single. In an attempt to blend this superb song into the album, it has been added as the third track instead of the standard relegation to the end of the album. After that, the band seems to settle in, rarely deviating from the blueprint laid out on the first three tracks. Although the remaining tracks fail to match the excellence of "Action Items", they do not disappoint either.

Now, on to the issue of Games at High Speeds being released for a second time. Typically an album is re-issued because it is either out of print or on a label that has insufficient distribution and/or it suffers from horrendous recording. Furthermore, most re-issues are accompanied by bonus tracks and/or a thorough re-mastering. Games at High Speeds is neither out of print, nor does it suffer from a bad recording. Compounding things, the re-issue has not been re-mastered and only includes one bonus track. In a day of CD burners and MP3 players, it's hard to imagine anyone tracking this down for a single song. According to Pilot to Gunner, the reason for this re-release seems to be that the first go around only received proper distribution in America, Asia, and Australia, ignoring Europe. Yet, this is not a European-only release. While Arena Rock Recordings may have better distribution than Gern Blandsten, it's not like they have cardboard displays in Tower or Virgin Records -- making this seem more and more like a waste of money.

Most people who enjoy Dischord-inspired pop probably know about Gern Blandsten and therefore know about Pilot to Gunner. Unlike former label mates the Liars, who jumped from Gern to Mute Records, they are not part of the New York/Brooklyn post-punk, new wave scene that writers and kids everywhere are flipping out for. Therefore, they are unlikely to receive the backing of the British musical hype machine that helped make the Liars cover models for the hippest magazines everywhere. Pilot to Gunners' sound had its day in the neon, and if At the Drive In and Jawbox couldn't make it, it's doubtful these lads will. This record would only make sense if Pilot to Gunner are sitting on the biggest album since the White Album. In that case, they will blow up, and instead of everyone flocking to buy their album on Gern, they'll buy it on Arena Rock. Even in that case, one could make a good argument that the label would have been better served taking the money they put into this and using it on a good marketing campaign for the new album.

If you didn't get a chance to pick up Games at High Speeds the first time around, and your jonesing for a Jawbox fix, by all means pick this up. If you have it, find a copy of "Action Items" to download, and wait for the new album.

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