Guided By Voices are less a band than they are a collected catalog of songs by the inhumanly prolific Robert Pollard and whatever band members/drinking buddies he had hanging around him at the time. Springing directly from the blue-collar surroundings of Dayton, Ohio, they provided an outlet for the creative tendencies typically stifled in practical factory towns and an excuse to get drunk and play loud rock ‘n’ roll to very small bar crowds. Inspired by college rock and the early pop masterpieces of the British Invasion, they have spun out a sprawling career of hard-worn rock ‘n’ roll and have come to define the lo-fi aesthetic that underwrote much of American indie rock in the 1990s. To properly outline everything they’ve ever recorded would take a lifetime, and if you finished you would find that Pollard would have outdistanced you by no mean distance; it is only a half-joke that by the time you finish this sentence he will have written six more songs (In fact they’ve released two full albums since I first posted this to Reddit seven months ago). In addition to what’s included in this guide, there are myriad EPs, singles, live albums, compilations, split-EPs with other bands, Robert Pollard solo albums (13 or so), Boston Spaceships albums, and the *Suitcase* series of albums, that dig up 300 toss-off songs and pretend they’re done by 300 one-off garage rock bands. It’s daunting, to say the least, which is why for now this guide will focus mainly on their GBV-branded ‘studio’ albums. Pack a lunch and find some (a lot) of beer; we may be here for a while.
Forever Since Breakfast (1986)
While this *is* technically an EP, it’s also sort of necessary to place us into context at the beginning. To keep it short: *Forever Since Breakfast* was the first thing the band recorded and was the last to be recorded in a proper studio for about a decade so. It sounds uncommonly like early R.E.M., a comparison that would hold true for the band for the rest of the Eighties. Decent enough stuff, although Pollard would later disparage the album as “a mediocre recording in a very sterile environment”.
Devil Between My Toes (1987)
The band’s debut LP takes the same sort of tone as their debut EP, although it is much more charming by virtue of its cheaper production values. It still sounds like *Murmur*, although the band’s later style still shows through in places. While not essential, it is still a fun listen and contains some real winners. Only 300 copies were originally made of the album, which set the tone for pressing runs for the band up into the early 1990s.
The band’s second album found them attempting to add a much harder guitar sound into their college rock sound, to middling results. Pollard considers it the band’s worst album, and there is little to be said against this; it sounds muddled, with gain-fuelled guitars present often for the sake of having them.
Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989)
Considered by many to be the first “proper” GBV album, in that it’s the first album to introduce the lo-fi, 4-track manipulation vibe that would go on to form the bones of the group’s sound. The album has much more of an off-the-cuff cut-and-paste vibe than their first two albums, and the willingness to commit just about any idea that comes into Pollard’s head has its spiritual origin here. It still drags in places and is haunted by the jangly ghost of IRS-era R.E.M., but for all intents and purposes the legacy of their lo-fi era begins here.
Same Place The Fly Got Smashed (1990)
My favourite of all of the pre-popular GBV albums, *Same Place The Fly Got Smashed* is also Pollard’s favourite album for lyrics. The album is sort of a concept album about the lives and deaths of alcoholics in the great go-nowhere of the Midwest. It’s fairly straight-forward, as far as later GBV releases would go, although the interspersed short sketches are definitely a harbinger of things to come. “Blatant Doom Trip” is one of the great rock ‘n’ roll grooves.