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