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”


chris said...

shitty noise pop?? have you ever heard of MBV?

Dustin C. said...

Yeah... not so sure if you read that part correctly. I have heard of My Bloody Valentine, and love MBV, and played that on my radio show. Again, the reference to Experimental Noise Pop was that it was in the TOP SHELF stack, and that it was, in fact, not MBV, but rather some shitty rip off. Thanks for commenting.