With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 2 (1992-1996)

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Propeller (1992)

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.

Standouts:

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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.

Standouts:

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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.

Standouts:

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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.

Standouts:

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.

Standouts:

 

 

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 1 (1986-1990)

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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.

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Forever Since Breakfast (1986)

Released 1986 on I Wanna Records

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”.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6YI6UW-nus] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fewaohyrugw]

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Devil Between My Toes 

Released February 15th, 1987 on Schwa Records

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.

https://open.spotify.com/album/4vIOxXE6AuwCxcDMIs7NQj?si=G3clxY9hRmKVBRDJQBRQEw

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Sandbox 

Released 1987 on Halo Records

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-fueled guitars present often for the sake of having them.

https://open.spotify.com/album/5CLGV4HjEI7IO3zgT8xQgR?si=7PwKxUw9Stqet2ieg48uXQ

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Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia 

Released 1989 on Halo Records

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.

https://open.spotify.com/album/66RGamtdHd2Z2orXj0JswD?si=bfljY2nzTgWllf0Xp_2G2w

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Same Place The Fly Got Smashed

Released February 21st, 1990 on Rocket # 9 Records

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.

https://open.spotify.com/album/34GHEHF9oNZr54nCYvDhGu?si=wua2FTFXTNS1S9gFAL90Bg