Waxed: Guided By Voices' Under The Bushes Under The Stars

Under The Bushes Under The Stars was the last Guided By Voices with the “classic” lineup: Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos and Kevin Fennell. Some would say it was the last “true” Guided By Voices albums.

Released in 1996, it is the sound of a band changing in some respects, but maybe it is really a more realized effort of a band hitting its stride. No one should argue that Bee Thousand isn’t GBV’s finest album to date (except for Pollard, the group’s mercurial leader who claimed that Half Smiles of the Decomposed, the last album he recorded under the GBV moniker, was the album he truly always wanted to make, and that with it completed, he was hanging up the GBV name…), and that’s true. Bee Thousand is Guided By Voices finest work, but many an album comes close. With such a wealth of material, it is amazingly worthwhile to check out whatever you can – and especially some of the albums panned by fans or critics, or both.

Under The Bushes Under The Stars would largely retain the lo-fi sound of earlier GBV records, though it had been recorded in the most professional of settings the band had worked in yet. There are a few tracks that sound more polished, but by and large, tracks like “Cut-Out Witch” and “Man Called Aerodynamics” and “To Remake The Young Flyer” still have the lo-fi charm and sensibility that GBV were known for.

One of the reasons I have always like Under The Bushes is the wealth of good songs versus the lack of strange little sound collages and unfinished ideas. Now, to be a GBV is to love the strange little sound collages and unfinished ideas, and believe me, I do. Besides, some of what you would think might fall into those categories are blissful, beautiful little 90-second pop songs, unique and wonderful and eerie all at once. But, I won’t lie – I’ve also been on the receiving end of finding one of the rare early e.p.s or an import disc and being so excited to get my hands on new GBV, only to be confused and sometimes let down by the lack of the really catchy 90-second indie rock I love so much.

Under The Bushes delivers on the promise of Pollard and Co., though, and does so in spades. Over 24 tracks – only three longer than 3:00 – GBV delivers the goods again, and again, and again.

One of the highlights are the back-to-back “The Official Ironmen Rally Song” and “To Remake The Young Flyer.” Where “Ironmen” is chimey Brit-rock channeled through a little R.E.M., “Flyer” is more moody, introspective rocker. Where “Ironmen” charges ahead, “Flyer” is restrained. Pollard gets his British kicks on, while Tobin writes a small journey that sounds like a story. I would pay good money to hear The Who cover the first, and The Beatles cover the second.

“No Sky” continues the tradition of incredibly catchy power-pop-styled rock wrapped up in lo-fi charm. “You Name Is Wild” doesn’t do such a job of hiding it’s treats – it jumps right out at you, grabs you by the throat and takes you along for the ride, even with the rough-sounding production (which isn’t really that rough).

In fact, “No Sky” kicks off a set of classic Guided By Voices material – short, strange lo-fi songs that pull you in, and with some real gems scattered throughout, like the aforementioned “Your Name Is Wild” and the punky “Ghosts of a Different Dream.”

“Look At Them” segues into a nice Sprout-penned sound collage, “The Perfect Life.” The instantly-recognizable GBV guitar sounds pulls us from that instrumental into the irresistible “Underwater Explosions.” The next track, another Tobin Sprout tune called “Atom Eyes,” sounds a bit in the guitars like a precursor for “Unspirited” from Isolation Drills. And that is the beauty of Pollard and his crew’s craft – the pen familiar, hummable, kick ass rock songs.

King Shit and the Golden Boys crop up on “Don’t Stop Now,” and by this point in the disc, if you haven’t learned to love the terse arrangements and the many songs that are gems on this disc, you’re probably not going to be much of a Guided By Voices fan.

The charm of Under The Bushes is the way it takes the best attributes of Guided By Voices early years and classic lineup and maximizes them, while minimizing the weaknesses of the band. It’s also really interesting to think of what this album might have sounded in the hands of the Cobra Verde-backed version of Guided By Voices. A song like “Big Boring Wedding” would’ve turned into a massive arena rock anthem, but would’ve lost a lot of its charm. Songs like “It’s Like Soul Man” and “To Remake The Young Flyer” and “Atom Eyes” wouldn’t exist without Tobin Sprout, who really stands out as a fine, accomplished songwriter alongside Bob Pollard here – part of the reason why Bob wanted to reinvent the band, position himself as the sole creative force.

The overall sound of the record sounds like a band trying to make a play for some radio airplay, perhaps, but as I said, this does a lot to maximize some of this band’s best qualities. It truly is a fine “closing statement” for the classic lineup. And it still doesn’t sound quite fit for radio, anyway… the production was still lo-fi enough to attract long-time fans, but fresh enough to attract new ears, too.

After writing this, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not doing this record justice. Under The Bushes Under The Stars is special because it encapsulates a time in the history of Guided By Voices where big change was on the horizon, and everyone in the band knew it. Pollard wanted to taste some form of superstardom, and this was the best he was going to get out of the current band he had backing him up. And... it wasn't going to be good enough.

One of the best things about playing in a band is playing with your friends, your drinking buddies. Being holed up in the garage or basement and bashing out tune after tune. There's a camaraderie there that is unmatched and is really special. This version of Guided By Voices was comprised of Pollard's drinking buddies.

But, as with any relationship, there is tension, and sometimes things change and the relationship has to end. Here, on Under The Bushes Under The Stars, the tension leads to a more cohesive and structured album than GBV had done before. This one just flat out rocks.

It's the end of an era for the greatest indie rock band that was. They end it with style. This is another one of those GBV albums that points both forward and back - it fits nicely in the middle of the band's vast catalog of great albums. Often forgotten about, it's a masterpiece in it's own right.

So grab a sixer and let Dayton's true poet laurette spin you little tales of woe, joy, beer, women, and teaching grade schoolers. All while backed by the best drinking buddies a guy could have.


Primer: Guided By Voices and the Hold On Hope e.p.

From the opening ringing notes of “Underground Initiations,” you are immediately hooked. This is your underground initiation, your golden ticket to Bob Pollard’s magical and twisted, melodious world of mayhem. In just two minutes and three seconds, you are transported… and you become an instant fan. Hold On Hope by Guided By Voices has that effect on you.

Immediate. Direct. Like a kick in the teeth, but from over-amped guitars, fake British accents, vocal harmonies, and solid rhythm.

There’s something about Guided By Voices that suggests before. You’ve heard something kind of like this before… but not this way, not this skewed, and not this good.

“Interest Position” picks up right where “Underground Initiations” leaves off: frantic paced and catchy as hell. For a compact disc e.p., Hold On Hope’s only crime is it’s shortness. With nine songs and only weighing in at under 19 total minutes in length, it kicks the door in, gets the job done, and then gets the hell out. There’s only one track, the last one, that is longer than 2:30.

It’s also the perfect place to start listening to Guided By Voices and the prolific Mr. Pollard, a grade school English teacher gone horribly and wonderfully awry.

The bouncy pop of “Fly Into Ashes” begs you to sing along, and you will… you will. You’ll be singing with Bob right through most of this e.p. “Tropical Robots” measures in as the shortest track on the record, at just 51 seconds. You will sing along to this. You cannot resist singing along to this track, and you too wish that the “Alabama policeman” in question would let them go on their way, and that he won’t spoil YOUR fun.

“A Crick Uphill” mixes the two styles we’ve had for the first part of the album – frantic guitar rock reminiscent of The Who, and effervescent pop related to The Beatles. It’s fun to sing with, fun to dig into, and rocks like a ’68 Camaro.

The next song in the cycle, “Idiot Princess,” has that lo-fi indie charm that was GBV’s early calling card. It chugs along in its own little world. It also serves as a fine precursor to the e.p.’s best song, “Avalanche Aminos.”

“Avalanche Aminos” arrives with one of the best, catchiest little guitar riffs you’ve ever heard. And… it keeps it going, and builds a whole song around it. The whole song keeps up the frenetic charming chug, pushing and pulling at the seems while Bob sings perfect pop melodies over the top. Then the end of the song arrives and wraps everything up so nice and tight.

“Do The Collapse,” which would have been the title track on the album of the same name, if it had made the cut, is a tasty little instrumental. Nothing incredibly special, but it fits in so well with these songs – songs that, if we’re honest, we’re the castaways from the Do The Collapse album (all except the last track, for which the e.p. is named).

Let’s think about that for a minute. This is a collection of b-sides and cutting room floor outtakes that didn’t make an album, one album. One listen to this and you will ask, “wait, if these are the throwaways… the how fucking good is that album?” I’ll tell you… Do The Collapse is good, very good… but Hold On Hope is great. I might be tempted to call it perfect… and it certainly is the best introduction to Guided By Voices. You get songs that just sound like hit after hit after hit, if we lived in a parallel universe where record execs weren’t dicks, artists took real chances, and American Idol got shit-canned after the first three episodes. It’s a parallel universe I want to live in.

Finally – I know, it’s been like 15 minutes! – we arrive at the final track, “Hold On Hope.” If you like perfectly constructed, perfectly executed pop songs, then you have arrived at your own personal nirvana.

“Hold On Hope” begins with an understated acoustic guitar and piano, and an organ creeps in as Bob begins to sing. The first verse ends with a jangly guitar, a little dirtier version of George Harrison’s best licks, and then the band kicks. The song builds like this throughout the first half, adding more and more, until we get to the last verse/chorus, complete with strings. Yes, damnit, strings, in a Guided By Voices song.

You can say they sold out, and many people did after the Do The Collapse album. Most hardcore fans gave you the impression that they hated it – gone was the original GBV line-up (and completely gone, not here and there in a few spots), and with the new band, formerly Cobra Verde, came a new pop-polish sheen. There was a new, produced sound. Songs were longer and more thought out, more complex.

And, to be honest, taking away the bumps and bruises of GBV kind of makes it not GBV. But, if any other band had made Do The Collapse, it would’ve been hailed as a slice of power-pop-indie-rock heaven.

Thankfully, a few tracks made it off the cutting room floor to remind us the this IS Robert Pollard, after all, and he does kick ass and take names. A guy that has written over a thousand songs will do that to you.

“Hold On Hope” is a slice of the perfect pop heaven, but Hold On Hope is a slice of perfect indie rock perfection. In total, it takes you on a ride and leaves you breathless for more. It also serves as a great introduction to the greatest indie band of all time, Guided By Voices, and gives you a starting point to go both forward and back – to go both lo-fi and hi-fi, to make your way into Bee Thousand and into Isolation Drills.

If you can find it, buy it. Then thank me later.

What To Get Next: Bee Thousand, and then Isolation Drills
Recommended If You Like: The Who, The Beatles, Pavement, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, good music


Welcome: Cory M., also known as Remy

Welcome to our first guest author, Remy. Good times should follow:


Best Bands You Never Heard: Guided By Voices

Why Guided By Voices? It’s not easy enough to say, “why not?” Not this time. Here you sit, your iTunes-addled mind reeling with choices, song after song after song available for this band that you’ve only heard about. But oh my, the things you have heard.

Prepare yourself – to get into Guided By Voices at this juncture is to be kicked as hard as possible between the legs. The band doesn’t exist anymore, even though Pollard still releases material and tours. And yeah… “still releases material” is kind of an in-joke with GBV fans. To call Pollard prolific would be a disservice, probably. The man is a walking encyclopedia of song, and then some.

My introduction to Guided By Voices came via Bloomington, Indiana’s, own beacon of Indie Rock radio – WIUS, 1570 am. Hey, I thought it would be cool to have my own radio show, so I signed up… and immediately discovered that my ‘90’s corporate rock tastes wouldn’t fly. Well, Mudhoney would fly… but not Pearl Jam or Soundgarden.

So there in the early hours of my musical discovery I sat, at the old piece of shit soundboard, the two crappy compact disc players on my left, the short stack of top shelf playlist material on my right. I’ve got to tell you… through four years of radio deejaying at WIUS, the top shelf material was 90% shit. I’m not being crude just to be crude – this was not music, but rather obscure artists farting on snare drums while dipping their junk in ketchup and dancing with microphones on their feet. Or something like that. So much of what was in that stack was Experimental Noise Pop, or Bulgarian Punk Metal, or Norwegian Death Classic Trip-Hop, or any number of incredibly bad combinations.

But… there were exceptions. Terror Twilight by Pavement. The Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips. Anything by Frank Black and the Catholics. And… a little e.p. called Hold On Hope by a little band from Dayton, Ohio, known as Guided By Voices.

Wouldn’t you know it, I played Hold On Hope, including the song “Hold On Hope,” and I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall in love with Guided By Voices. Then… a trip to TD’s CDs and LPs later… my nuts, in a vice grip, pain, pain, pain, pain.

There were so many, so very many CDs to choose from (and it would get worse when my then-girlfriend would by me a record player for Christmas). However, after sweating and searching and cursing and wasting about three hours, I decided that the Hold On Hope e.p. would be a good start, along with a Matador Records compilation disc, Everything Is Nice. Thus, I plunged myself into the world of Indie Rock.

At this point, the diehard Guided By Voices fan reading over your shoulder is screaming your ear off not to listen to me, because my introduction to the band was via Hold On Hope, which is derived from the sessions for Do The Collapse, which is sometimes referred to as the album where Pollard flipped his shit and canned most of what made Guided By Voices great. Lo-fi sound production, general silliness, 30 to 90 second long songs, and a bunch of drunken idiots for a band (including Pollard) were traded in for high quality studio production, more serious-sounding songs, song lengths reaching 3, 4, or even 5 minutes, and a new, arena-reading rock band and the sound that comes with them.

The diehards hate this album. Maybe rightly so. Because, honestly, everything I have ever heard from the band is filtered through Hold On Hope, which could be in my eyes the greatest recording of songs since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pet Sounds. There’s not one wasted note on the whole damn thing. And, diehards, take note – it is quintessential GBV, just without the pops and cracks and lo-fi production. Silly, short, and oh so fun, Hold On Hope is perfect, and was to my then indie-virgin ears.

Then, I started buying other GBV and GBV-related items. And then I got confused, so I started reading, and found out my favorite new band was a different kind of animal than I had ever encountered before. I read, and read, and read, and listened, and listened, and listened. Some things I bought were kind of horrible, and I didn’t like them (at first) – they were so under-produced! Unlistenable, or so I thought. Other albums, like Mag Earwig!, Isolation Drills, and Universal Truths and Cycles caught a hold of my attention.

Soon… I had to go back. I had to go back and listen. And THAT is when GBV truly started to make sense… sitting in my dorm room with Bee Thousand or with any of the LPs in the Box set, or any of the various little e.p.s and 45s I picked up. Fast Forward… and I’ve got the first Suitcase, but not the second, but plenty of other CDs and LPs and boxed sets. Not all, goodness, not all… but enough to say I am more than a casual fan.

Enough about me. Back to you, and your iTunes-addled mind. You’re tired of Duffy, the Flobots, Lil Wayne, and that guy from the Strokes. You’re looking for something to break the monotony of your everyday existence. You’re looking for some substance, or something exciting, or something that doesn’t sound like anything else.

Actually, if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t listening to Duffy or Lil Wayne, unless you are Cory, and then all bets are off. Anyway… you’re still looking for something exciting, and you know you don’t have the $1000+ it’s gonna cost to collect all this wonderful Guided By Voices that you’ve heard of but never heard. So what do you do? Where do you begin?

If you’re lucky enough, you live in Indiana, and, in that case, you drive your ass down (or up, but in Indiana, we always say “we’re going down to…” even if we’re driving north, east or west) to Luna Records in either Broad Ripple or downtown Indianapolis. Luna Records is the distributor of GBV and GBV-related material. They have a deal with the business side of Pollard’s music, and have damn near all you could ever want or need, and certainly enough to get you started listening to GBV.

Be prepared for: great melodies, fake british accents, sometimes fuzzes and pops and cracks, amazing guitar moments, puzzling whirring noises that sometimes are entire songs, rampant alcoholism, psychedelia-tinged everything. This band, and Robert Pollard in general, has a deep, deep love of all things Beatles and The Who. Within your first few listens, this will become readily apparent – this band really loves The Who and The Beatles.

“Damnit, Dusty!,” you’re saying now. “Tell me which albums to get already!” But no… you must be ready for what you’re getting into. You want to know “Why Guided By Voices,” right?

All of the aforementioned reasons are why. The band is a cerebral, visceral, fun, meaningless and touching testament… all at once. There is a story to this band. If this band was a girl, she’d best be described as smoky, dangerous, mysterious, and that kind of batshit-crazy-fun that has wrecked so many of my relationships.

Guided By Voices is more than a band – it’s an institution… and institution of rock.

Stay tuned for the following GBV-centric features:

Primed: Hold On Hope ep
Waxed: Bee Thousand
Waxed: Under The Bushes Under The Stars
Waxed: Propeller
Waxed: Isolation Drills
Tracks of the Damned: “Jane of the Waking Universe”


Primer: Dashboard Confessional and The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most

So… you’re no longer an under-20 emo-girl, or, if you’re lucky, never were. You missed SpiderMan 2, you missed MTV unplugged, you missed the performance of all-R.E.M. material. You’ve heard about this whiny band that all the kids like, but couldn’t ever bring yourself to try them out during their commercial heyday – you know, two years ago. You’d like to think you were invincible, but… now you’re still wondering, “so who is this Dashboard Confessional guy, anyway?”

Well, this Dashboard Confessional guy is called Chris Carrabba. And now that some of the hype has died down and there aren’t a million pre-frat-boy guys strumming acoustic guitars on the step of your college dormitory, claiming that Dashboard Confessional is the greatest band you’ve never heard, it’s time to revisit them, and him, and take a look at whether or not they did anything worthy of your attention, teenage girl singalongs on MTV be damned.

Where do you start? I suggest The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, as good a place to start as any in the DC catalog, since it contains a few well-known tunes, some tunes that all of the kids loved, and can be picked up for $5 in the used section of your favorite CD store.

Opening with “The Brilliant Dance,” the record announces itself in the hushed acoustic tones and slightly-whiny, heart on the sleeve vocals that were Carrabba’s stock in trade for much of DC’s early years. It is worth nothing that the band’s/Carrabba’s first release, Swiss Army Romance, was recorded sans band – just the man behind the band and his guitar. However, since the band would grow into the next coming of Journey in the last few years, writing and recording loud, anthemic, and ringing guitar pop/emo rock, it’s good to see the band stripped down, but not completely bare.

This is why “Screaming Infidelities” might have been shocking when the album was released (“Percussion? Oh NO!”). But, with MTV video in tow, soon the teens began discovering what the pre-frat-boys already knew – Carrabba had a way with words, and could put into melodic song all of our worst fears and heartbreaks. By the time “Screaming Infidelities” ends, you’ll be screaming along when Carrabba comes unhinged, singing “your hair is everywhere, screaming infidelities is taking its wear!”

The percussion and other full band amenities actually help this record out a great deal by keeping things from being too samey. The break up the monotonous tone of Carrabba’s strummed guitar and voice that mark and carry every song. Because of the change in occasional pace, “The Best Deceptions” and “Saints and Sailors” stick out from the early songs, and “Again I Go Unnoticed” keeps things interesting in the later stages.

With lyrics like “does he ever get the girl,” and “you can’t fake it hard enough to please,” and lots of talk of letters and being out of touch and out of time, well… sometimes things get a little cringe-worthy. There was a reason all the teens from 2002-2003 loved this band, because this is high-school poetry at its best, or worst, depending on how you see high-school poetry.

The guitar playing is fairly good when it is not folky, such as the innovative open-tuning chord movements in “Screaming Infidelities” and in other places. Some of the more hushed songs, though, feature the more folk-styled angry strumming. His voice varies between very singalongable to screamy whine that most people who hate Dashboard site as the reason that they hate Dashboard. Really tough, this only gets really annoying on “This Bitter Pill,” the closing track.

Still, if you’ve just been dumped or are having one of those rainy days when all the memories come flooding back and a tear slips into your morning coffee, The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most will help get you through your day. It’s a great place to start if you’re interested in the band.

What To Get Next: A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar
Recommended If You Like: The New Amsterdams, The Get Up Kids, acoustic Fall Out Boy or Jimmy Eat World, Elvis Costello, R.E.M.

Primer: Ryan Adams and Demolition

The problem with Ryan Adams is also the best part about Ryan Adams: there is such a wealth of material. For the uninitiated, it can be a daunting task trying to find out where to begin, with multiple online-only songs, secret projects, bootlegged “unreleased” material, and other bands such as Whiskeytown all offering worthy listening experiences. Whiskeytown in and of itself deserves its own separate entries.

Though Adams is not-nearly as prolific and release-happy as Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices, the comparison is mostly just – here lies a brilliant songwriter, who releases a multitude of material that makes diehard fans squeal with joy, casual fans confused, and newcomers scared of where to begin.

Thankfully, Adams provides a great starting point for listening to his solo material with Demolition. Released after Adams’ best-selling and arguably most popular album to date, Gold, the Demolition album is the product of the prolific Adams writing and recording a reported four albums’ worth of material. Though it was originally his plan to release all of this material as a boxed set, the record company execs came in and asked him nicely to pare it down (not the first time the record execs would make a request to change Adams’ plan – the most publicized change having to do with the Love Is Hell and Rock N Roll albums, which we will surely get to later). The result was Demolition.

One might ask why a record of demos, half-finished songs and b-side material that Adams decided not to use (or rather that the record company decided needed to be pared down into a more listenable and commercially viable chunk) would be a great place to start. The primary is because on Demolition, we get a glimpse of the myriad forms Adams’ music can take.

On “Nuclear,” the album’s opening tune, is quintessential Ryan Adams: alt-country overtones, acoustic guitar and electric guitar rhythms, a pissed off and anthemic chorus, great lyrics, Adams’ alternately breathy and snarling vocals, and most of all, a kind of relaxed, lazy detachment that Adams best songs always have.

“Hallelujah” comes next, this time without the punky distorted guitars, but with that passionate-yet-uninterested singing, supported by some of Adams’ most gorgeous lyrics, great background vocals, a comfortably familiar harmonica, and Americana chord structures. It contains one of my favorite Adams’ lyrics: “I’d only trade you in for Mary Magdalene.” I love you sweetie, but hey, you know, she was kind of important, he seems to say – again, passion with a detachment that any 20-something growing up in American can relate to.

While some critics panned the barebones structural nature of some of the songs, the minimal accompaniment of “You Will Always Be The Same” lends it a storyteller’s charm, and lends it familiarity with Adams’ first solo album, Heartbreaker. By contrast, “Starting to Hurt” points directly to the take on modern rock and the garage rock revival that Adams would perfect on Rock N Roll.

To my ears, the first 6 songs are solid gold, some of Adams’ best songwriting. The perfectly capture his irreverent, irresponsible, and completely understandable look at the world, love, and human interaction. A good deal of his material seems to deal with either growing up or breaking up. This compilation seems to capture that without being a lame greatest hits package.

The astute listener will love the interplay between the guitar and piano on “Cry on Demand,” the steel guitar on “Nuclear,” the laid-back vibe of “Tennessee Sucks.” The listener seeking emotional content will likely find something tasteful and relatable on every track. To me, “She Wants to Play Hearts” is a little lacking, and the second half of the album doesn’t capture me as much as the first.

Perhaps the best thing about starting off your Ryan Adams collection with Demolition is that the next album you purchase by Adams should seem familiar, no matter which one it is. It seems like all of his many styles are captured on this one album, from the country of Jacksonville City Nights to the dark introspection and indie rock trappings of Love Is Hell.

With an artist as prolific and polarizing as Adams, there are bound to be those who vehemently disagree with Demolition as a primer to Adams’ music, but for my money it is a worthy addition to any record collection and a great doorway into Adams’ superb solo work. It may be his least consistent-throughout album, but it is a great place to start.

What To Get Next: Love Is Hell is damn-near perfect, but of the newer stuff, Easy Tiger is a great listen, too
Recommended If You Like: The Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, The Strokes, Jeff Buckley (kind of), folk rock, outlaw country

Mission Statement

To discuss musical artists, their albums, and their songs, with intelligence and style. To help the wary reader confidently approach music they are unfamiliar with. To answer readers' questions and research new artists on behalf of those wishing to listen to them, but not knowing where to start. To do away with the idea of artists as "singles" artists, and focus on those who create consistently good music, not just one hit song that gets hot on iTunes. To destroy the American Idol culture of pop music. To destroy the iTunes nation. To bring back listening to music as an experience, like dropping the needle down on a record and letting it go. To debunk some musical myths and feed the frenzy on others. To write about what we are most passionate about.