This was supposed to be the last album. Having spent five years playing to handfuls of people, selling albums in the hundreds, and getting into debt, they released *Propeller* in a pressing run of 500 copies, each of which bore a unique cover hand-crafted by the band, their friends, and family members. These albums would circulate and gain the band a larger following, which would snowball in each subsequent year from then on. *Propeller* is the beginning of a stellar period of extremely fertile creativity for what is considered the band’s classic lineup, featuring the band’s only other real songwriter, Tobin Sprout. It’s the first album to really exemplify the “GBV sound”, which combined basement recording with tight, heavy guitar work juxtaposed with lighter-than-air songcraft. The initial “GBV! GBV!” crowd chant at the beginning (fake, of course – the band had never played in front of that many people) would be replicated at every show thereafter, and the sledgehammer that many of the songs wield make it feel like the biggest arena show you’ve ever heard through the living room wall.
Vampire On Titus (1993)
A very abrasive album recorded after Pollard decided to keep going with GBV but before he re-solidified the classic lineup. It’s a notoriously noisy album that will prove to be a difficult listen for casual fans, but it’s fuzzed-up, blissed-out tracks will yield their secrets for the patient. “”Wished I Was A Giant”” sounds like a bootleg of the greatest arena performance ever recorded from the roof of the stadium. “Marchers In Orange” proves that there’s melody even in the midst of layered tape hiss. Not their most accessible album (maybe their least accessible, in fact) but fascinating nonetheless.
Bee Thousand (1994)
This was supposed to be the last album. After catching some interest with *Propeller* and *Vampire On Titus*, the band was still in debt and Pollard was facing demands to focus on his family and his teaching career. The band threw together *Bee Thousand* in a very informal, very spur-of-the-moment fashion. The album caught the ear of the thriving indie rock underground and word of the band spread. They began receiving notice in large publications and people actually began to show up to their shows. As a result, Matador Records (who had handled the distribution of *Bee Thousand* through the small Scat label) offered to sign them and they became critical darlings. *Bee Thousand* is one of the most well-regarded albums of the last thirty years and regularly makes the cut when it comes to the listing games music critics like to play. The secret is of course in the songwriting; the album feels like a cut-and-paste collage of the best moments of what Pollard calls the “four Ps of rock”: Pop, punk, progressive, and psychedelic. In the vein of that last genre, the album is absolutely chock-full of strange, noisy moments; during the recoring, the band members used tape manipulation, edits, and noise effects as instrumentation, resulting in what often seems like the aural equivalent of DaVinci’s sketchbook.
Alien Lanes (1995)
Their first album for Matador was a continuation of the style they had really hammered out on *Bee Thousand*: short, sweet bursts of songwriting gold with a ridiculously high percentage of catchy winners. The percentage is perhaps not as high as *Bee Thousand*, but *Alien Lanes* also out-numbers the previous album, 28 tracks to 20. The seconds-long sketch-tracks can be a bit useless at times (especially “Gold Hick”) but they do provide valuable contrast to the longer tracks, making the album feel like you’re flipping through a particulary fertile stretch of radio dial.
Under The Bushes Under The Stars (1996)
For their ninth album, the band decided to go the professional route again, something they hadn’t attempted in a decade. They recorded a number of sessions on 24-track, and enlisted several producers, including Pixies bassist Kim Deal and noise-auteur Steve Albini. The result is an album studded with solid nuggets of pure pop framed in punchy rock ‘n’ roll. The art-collage sensibility is largely done away with, in favour of well-executed songs that, in a just world, would have been hits on rock radio. As it was, it would be the last album the classic lineup would record for sixteen years. Tobin Sprout left the band to puruse being a father, and the rest of the regular players drifted away.
One thought on “With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 2 (1992-1996)”
Best song on Under The Bushes is “It’s Like Soul Man”, which is arguably (very arguably ) one of the greatest songs in rock history 😉