Guided By Voices

    Propeller (Scat, 1993)
    Vampire on Titus (Scat, 1993)
   The Grand Hour EP (Scat, 1994)
     Bee Thousand (Scat, 1994)
     I Am a Scientist EP (Scat, 1994)
    Box (Scat, 1995)
     Alien Lanes (Matador, 1995)
     Under the Bushes Under the Stars (Matador, 1996)
   Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP (Matador, 1996)
     Mag Earwhig! (Matador, 1997)
    Do the Collapse (TVT, 1999)
   Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft (Luna, 2000)
    Isolation Drills (TVT, 2001)
    Universal Truths and Cycles (Matador, 2002)
     Hardcore UFOs: Revelations, Epiphanies and Fast Food in the Western Hemisphere (Matador, 2003)
     The Best of Guided by Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates (Matador, 2003)
    Earthquake Glue (Matador, 2003)
     Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador, 2004)
   Suitcase 2: American Superdream Wow (Recordhead, 2005)
   Suitcase 3: Up We Go Now (GBV Inc, 2009)

Rock & roll life stories don't come much more heartwarming than Robert Pollard's. Just over a decade ago, he was a schoolteacher in Dayton, OH, with a fun little hobby: writing peculiar pop songs and recording them on crappy 4-track machines, helped out by a loose assemblage of pals that he called Guided by Voices. By the time the band played its last show on December 31, 2004—a four-hour rockfest documented on the DVD The Electrifying Conclusion—Guided by Voices were an internationally admired band, and Pollard was regarded as one of modern rock's most inspired tunesmiths. Now in his forties, he doesn't need to teach anymore; instead, he gets to live out all his Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey fantasies on concert stages across the country. Lucky bastard.

At its best, Guided by Voices' music is a winning combination of power pop, indie rock, punk-metal, and stream-of-consciousness psychedelia buoyed by Pollard's lilting melodies and Daltreyesque vocals. Identifying GBV's best work can be a chore, however. Their early albums (the ones recorded on those crappy 4-tracks) helped turn the term "lo-fi" into a Nineties buzzword, but that doesn't make it any easier to hear the jewels scattered beneath the sonic sludge. And because Pollard is a prolific writer who doesn't tend to edit or develop his ideas much, most GBV discs are maddeningly inconsistent, packed with dozens of tracks—many of which are more fragments than songs—that run the gamut from transcendent to unlistenable.

Newcomers curious to sample Pollard's wares should start with the Matador best-of, an enticing introduction to the oeuvre. If you get hooked, pick up Bee Thousand, Under the Bushes Under the Stars, or Mag Earwhig!, all of which boast a highly favorable manna-to-dross ratio. Any of the remaining Matador and Scat albums will reward further investigation. GBV's two-album tenure on TVT was disappointing, but Isolation Drills sounds far less compromised by marketplace considerations than the Ric Ocasek–produced Do the Collapse (though the latter at least had the killer, Cars-esque single "Teenage F.B.I."). Although the five-CD Box, which brings together GBV's earliest music (1987-90); and three-volume outtakes series Suitcase; and the five-CD/one-DVD Hardcore UFOs, a career-spanning potpourri, are obviously meant for the converted, there's good stuff to be found there.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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