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Guided by Voices



In just about every way, Guided by Voices exemplifies the '90s indie pop renaissance -- they came from an unlikely background, employed willfully lo-fi production techniques, and sported a sound derived in equal measures from melodic pop and experimental rock. This unique combination of elements turned the band into one of the biggest underground musical heroes of recent memory.

Singer/guitarist/revered visionary Robert Pollard, then a Dayton schoolteacher, started Guided by Voices in 1983 with a bunch of friends, essentially as a hobby, and over the next decade, the group remained just that, rarely performing, employing a rotating cast of musicians, and periodically self-releasing four-track cassettes. All that would change with their landmark 1994 Matador release Bee Thousand, a surprise word-of-mouth hit. The album's idiosyncratic lyricism, brief and fragmented guitar-pop songs, and hissing, trebly production elevated the Ohio ensemble to the national stage and suddenly this wacky bunch of Dayton drinking buddies were doing national tours and appearing on the covers of magazines.

Pollard and his boys stuck to their idiosyncratic guns despite the increased attention, each year putting out a new studio album of noisy, fractured pop wonderment. Over time though, success wrought change, internal dissension leading to the departure of perennial second fiddle Tobin Sprout and the rest of the backing band while recording '97's Mag Earwhig! (Pollard recruited the Cleveland garage band Cobra Verde to replace them). With complete creative control now, Pollard left Matador, initially in search of a major label, before settling with TVT. With the help of several "real" producers, he also noticeably changed the GBV sound, abandoning the trademark hiss of the four-track in favor of a hi-fi studio environment.

This was an awkward transition, as Guided by Voices' uneven 1999 effort Do the Collapse (recorded with onetime Cars frontman Rik Ocasek) demonstrates, but it reached fruition with the excellent 2001 album Isolation Drills (the producer this time was Rob Schnaft, who has worked with Beck and Elliott Smith among others). This release eliminated the bum notes and slipshod qualities which had always been a simultaneously endearing and frustrating aspect of Guided by Voices' material. Instead, Isolation Drills taps Pollard's passion for classic British Invasion pop and power-driven '70s rock to create easily the most hard-hitting, riff-heavy Guided By Voices album to date, and also one of the best.

After Isolation Drills, Pollard took his show back to Matador for 2002's Universal Truths and Cycles, a self-produced album which married the studio savvy of more recent GBV with the tossed-off intimacy of vintage GBV. Pollard claims it's "Isolation Drills meets Alien Lanes."

Keeping on their once-a-year release schedule, Guided by Voices came back in 2003 with Earthquake Glue, one of their very best -- no longer does GBV's prolificacy translate to inconsistency. The album ranges between dreamy psychedelic stuff, roaring power pop, and slightly experimental sounding stuff, but there's a warm sun-through-the-haze vibe that permeates the album which begs repeat listening.

In addition to their fourteen full-lengths and many singles, Guided By Voices has also issued a pair of box sets, one a collection of early albums and another a compilation of unreleased material spanning the group's career.