Smiles Of The Decomposed
August 24, 2004
is the last Guided By Voices album. Not in the sense of "Here
is the previous Guided By Voices album," but in the sense
of "final." If it’s true in movies where the
voice-over says "You never really appreciate something
until it’s gone," and the credits roll, and you
leave the theater with little bits of popcorn stuck to your
shoes, then you will soon appreciate Guided By Voices. Because
following this album and its ensuing tour, the band will be
gone. After twenty-odd years, twenty-odd lineups, and twenty-odd
albums, EPs, singles, triples, stolen bases, misdemeanor convictions,
and broken hearts, Dayton, OH’s fortunate sons are taking
leave of your senses.
"This feels like the last album for Guided By Voices,"
explains Robert Pollard, known to his friends as "Robert
Pollard," GBV’s lone constant member, lead singer,
and famously prolific songwriter. "I’ve always
said that when I make a record that I’m totally satisfied
with as befitting a final album, then that will be it. And
this is it."
This, entitled 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed' (a line from
the album’s terrific second song, "Sleepover Jack"),
may well be the strongest set of music the band has ever released
for public consumption, but to be honest, we’re a little
tired of saying that every time GBV puts out a new record.
The truth loses its power of affect with repetition, apparently.
There’s only so many times you can play people a song
like "Girls Of Wild Strawberries," for instance,
drawing attention to its deceptively simple structure, influenced
at the same time by both American and British veins of mid-60s
chime-pop, pointing out the intricate interweaving guitar
lines, the stunning word-play, the vastly melancholic and
somehow still uplifting tone, the impeccably tossed-off phrasing,
hell, even the stately, plump rhythm section, only to have
these same (ordinarily intelligent and open-minded) people
whine "I liked their earlier, funnier stuff," before
you want to beat your head against the side of Dayton’s
Canal Street Tavern. Which is made of brick.
"Some people have said our albums have gotten progressively
weaker since, say, 'Under The Bushes, Under The Stars' [Matador,
1995]," says Pollard. "But actually they’re
misinterpreting a common human tendency to grow tired of something
if it hangs around too long." Now, we’d debate
his notion that GBV has hung around too long, especially when
there’s so many other, better examples of bands hanging
around too long on current display, but we’d rather
spend our time explaining, quickly, that Pollard himself is
not going to stop writing or recording or touring. Well, maybe
touring. He intends to continue as a solo artist: some of
you in the audience may be asking how that’s any different
from continuing as Guided By Voices, since "we all know"
that GBV’s more or less Pollard’s show anyway.
If he’s sick of the band, why doesn’t he do what
he always does and fire the band, then reconstitute with former
members of Skunk and Warthog and The Sweaty Three?
Thing is, he’s not sick of the band, he’s sick
of the baggage. "I love the guys in the band, but I’m
getting too old to be a gang leader," he explains. "There’s
a sense of maturity, and even integrity, I think, in continuing
as one’s own self, instead of as a gang — albeit
a positive and productive one."
You can hear that maturity, and we’re pretty sure integrity,
on 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed,' whose experiments with
textures and effects expand on similar moves made by 2003’s
Glue,' possibly due to being recorded with the same producer
(Todd Tobias, once again turning in a strong effort. Good
job, Todd!). 'HSOTD' occupies a happy mid-point on the recording
fidelity spectrum, or would if such a thing existed, and has
an easy-going feel that belies its twisty maze of puns and
alliterative allusions, nimble guitar lines, and genre-melding
song structures. In other words, it’s another dazzling
jewel in a catalog studded with equally shiny gems (Did you
know Dayton’s nickname is the Gem City? Maybe it’s
just a coincidence).
But in Pollard’s view the Guided By Voices experience
has become overly-received, in the sense that he feels constricted
by the need to deliver an album that sounds like what he thinks
we mean when we say, "Here’s the new Guided By
Or like he says: "I need to get back to a lack of professionalism
where there’s a certain degree of awkwardness. In order
for that to happen, I need to become much more actively involved
in the studio." Meaning not that he wants to play all
the instruments himself, though he could, but that he wants
to play with anyone he wants, a whole bunch of different people
even, over the course of a particular album, without having
to worry about leaving space for a certain number or type
of guitar parts or bass lines or what-have-yous. Also: leaving
GBV behind, he feels, will allow him to concentrate more on
the creative side of things and not concern himself with business
aspects like promotion and sticking to a heavy touring schedule.
And we wish him the best of luck. And we can’t wait
to hear what he comes up with next. And so on. But in the
meantime, you actually can hear what he’s come up with
next, in the form of 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed,' the
last best shot from a band that has given us nothing but bull’s-eyes
for longer than we have deserved. Listen to this: it will
never happen again.
Robert Pollard – vocals
Doug Gillard – guitar
Nate Farley – guitar
Chris Slusarenko – bass
Kevin March – drums
August 19, 2003
Guided By Voices have created a goddamn monster of platonic-form-telepathy.
The latest combination of GBV musicians seems to have fully
internalized the unmedicated riff-genius of Robert Pollard's
song writing, and they meet this material on the field of
battle in full blues-wailing flight.
As with 'Universal Truths & Cycles', the songs on 'Earthquake
Glue' have the shine of instant classics. In Pollard's songwriting
the cunning listener will hear strains and echoes of Ray Davies,
John Entwistle, Syd Barrett, Roy Wood, and countless other
craftsmen of the first psychedelic pop era. Pollard has consumed
their work like oysters, and the stuff he spews as a result
is a very special kind of sonic gas.
Listening to the gorgeous freakbeat dynamics of a song like
"I'll Replace You With Machines" makes you imagine
it's something Yo La Tengo will be doing as an acoustic set
closer in 2012, or that Paul Thomas Anderson will slipping
into a soundtrack later that year. I mean, this stuff is timeless,
in the sense that its essence is stripped of all temporal
contexts except those defined by electricity and rock &
Then there's something like "A Trophy Mule in Particular"
that churns like some impossible collaboration between the
Idle Race and Sonic Youth, with lyrics by Dennis Wilson. Where
the hell does something like that originate? It represents
a mock syncretic fusion that is nothing if not the spume of
Pollard and GBV are now about twenty years into their game.
I can honestly say that I've been following it almost that
whole time, and the sputtering-linear evolution and the profligate
quality of the songcraft of which he is capable never fails
to bugger my imagination.
'Earthquake Glue' is a fine bitch of an achievement. The songs
are of the highest caliber, the band's playing has a holistic
grasp of rock dynamism that swings like a horse's testicles,
and the whole thing flows like a tureen full of the sweetest,
softest butter imaginable.
As Pollard sings in "Secret Star" (a pseudo-prog
Who epic), "[You] have to know your conjurer." Well,
Pollard is a goddamn magician again on 'Earthquake Glue',
and the spiral of insanely good GBV albums looks like it'll
be continuing for a good long while.
Which is cool by me. You?
--Byron Coley, Deerfield MA 2003
Truths and Cycles
June 18, 2002
new Guided By Voices record, Universal Truths And Cycles,
is being trumpeted by the band and assorted hangers-on as
a return to autonomy but we have reason to believe
that no one in the band can spell autonomy, even when drunk.
Theres a few reasons it has been thus tagged: 1) because
its self-produced, marking a return to old-school GbV
ways (see Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Under The Bushes, Under
The Stars) and 2) like those earlier albums, theres
a fine mix of sandpapery snippets and semi-gloss punk/prog/pop.
But the third and maybe the biggest reason large-syllabled
words are being hurled like eggs with regard to the new album
is whos putting it out. Matador Records, New York City.
The thing about that, though, is we never realized Guided
By Voices left the label. Visionary leader/songwriter
Robert Pollard (as Gerard likes to call him, eyes upturned
to heaven) releases so many damn side projects/solo albums/compilations/collaborations
with people we thought were dead, that we long ago gave up
trying to keep track. We figured the last two GbV albums
Do The Collapse and Isolation Drills, both fantastic records
produced by pedigreed Rock People Ric Ocasek and Rob Schnapf,
respectively were side projects or experiments similar
to Pollards own self-released Fading Captain series,
and have been waiting patiently for him to deliver another
album to us. His label. Matador Records, New York City.
Well, the wait is over, and the wait was worth the wait. Universal
Truths And Cycles, described by Pollard Alien Lanes
meets Isolation Drills, and by us as the new Guided
By Voices album, may be the best thing the band has
ever produced. Studio savvy when it needs to be see
big rock numbers like Back To The Lake and Cheyenne
and intimate, even tossed-off where appropriate
see Father Sgt. Christmas Card and The Weeping
Bogeyman Univeral Truths And Cycles arc-welds
the lessons learned working in professional recording studios
to the spontaneous approach of earlier, wild-haired Guided
By Voices albums. The result: delicious pie! UTAC should please
lo-fi nostalgia freaks and studio sheen addicts alike, and
those few not yet convinced of Pollards songwriting
genius will be left slack-jawed and drooling at the quantity
and quality of musical ideas compressed into three-minute
gems like Everywhere With Helicopter, Eureka
Signs, and Pretty Bombs, featuring the string
Pollards singing, whether double-tracked on an expensive
German microphone or murmured into a Radio Shack cassette
player, sounds more assured and more elastic than ever. Doug
Gillards guitar playing has evolved to the point where
you cant imagine Guided By Voices without his soaring,
incandescent leads and unexpected juxtapositions of texture
and tone. And the rest of the band well, theyre
great, too. Word is GbV has acquired a new drummer, different
from the one who plays on UTAC, but that, too, represents
a kind of band tradition, and early reports from recent live
shows have been uniformly happy.
What else? Pollards lyrics seem to get better and darker
with age, and you can spin yourself silly trying to figure
out whether the two jets streaking over the end of Storm
Vibrations, a sound effect added long before the events
of 9/11, are a weird psychic portent or just a continuation
of Pollards longtime Dayton, OH (The Birthplace of Aviation,
and the Hometown of Guided By Voices) aeronautical obsession.
We could list the High Profile devotees (including leading
lights of both cinema and music) and the string of Well Known
bands inspired by Guided By Voices, but that would sound like
an argument for relevance when the fact is UTAC makes its
own argument, and far more eloquently than we could. We dont
know if GbV, or any band, are capable of saving rock, but
we do that if rock is worth saving, its in no small
part because of Guided By Voices.
discography at www.gbv.com
July 21, 1998
entertaining, warts-and-all look at the Dayton, Ohio, rock
legends, as filmed by documentarian Banks Tarver. Includes
live performance footage, many interviews, celebrity cameos
and a very angry doorman from Emos. At the end of the
film, the viewer is treated to a short compilation of GBV
promotional videos (we cant mention the titles yet,
but many of your favorites will be included).
May 20, 1997
September 14, 1996 the following anonymous post appeared on
the Internet: "No G-B-V! No G-B-V! It cant be!
Does anyone know why Guided by Voices is breaking up
I heard Bob wants to go back to teaching. Is this true?"
This desperate post started a landslide of speculation among
Guided by Voices fans all over the world. And when the band
released the Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP last November,
the rumors got worse: Who are those naked guys on the cover?
Why did Bob and Mitch and Toby grow those beards and take
their clothes off is this like GBVs Let It
Be album? Is that Cobra Verde?
Bob Pollard has not joined a nudist colony and he isnt
going back to teaching. He has just released the "most
diverse, fucked up, rocking, kick-ass crazy-ass saddest, get
wild, sophisticated pop sounding" (Bobs words)
Guided By Voices record to date, Mag Earwhig, a 21-song
LP recorded in Cleveland with Cobra Verde and in Dayton with
brother Jim Pollard and Tobin Sprout.
Since forming Guided By Voices in 1983, with the help of brother
Jimmy and "manager for life" Pete Jamison (they
both went in on a loan with Bob from the Dayton Public Schools
Credit Union to finance their early records), Bob Pollard
has recorded 10 GBV albums with 51 different lineups (see
GBV family tree). Every time the vampire on Titus has needed
some new blood to stay young, hes stirred things up.
So last fall, after writing some new songs--and after Toby,
Mitch and Kevin went solo--Bob called on Cleveland neo-glamsters
Cobra Verde (who also record for Scat Records, GBVs
previous label). Though Bob had first met the band in 1994,
while GBV and CV were touring together on the Scat Records
Insects of Rock Tour, he had been a longtime fan of their
previous band, Death of Samantha. Other than mutual admiration,
Bob and CV were also united in their addiction to Rock. After
talking about doing it for two years, Bob picked up the phone
and called CV singer-guitarist John Petkovic; by November
he was in Cleveland recording the new GBV record with CVers
Doug Gillard (lead guitar), Dave Swanson (drums), Don Depew
(bass) and Petkovic (guitar). The band recorded at 609 Recording,
a studio owned by Depew--who also engineered and mixed the
record. Everyone took turns playing rock-guitar, twirling
synth knobs and producing.
After recording 15 songs, Bob went back to Dayton, locked
himself in the Monument Club, a customized garage in his backyard
used for partying, and started sequencing and resequencing
the record--36 different ways. But he couldnt fight
the urge to record more songs--first, with an actual producer,
John Croslin (Spoon, Dumptruck), and then some spontaneous,
basement-sounding stuff--both sessions with Jim Pollard and
Tobin Sprout. Now the title. Back to the Monument Club to
strategize (and party with his friends). After numerous suggestions
(Honey Locust Honkytonk, Phantasmagoric Upstart,
Do the Collapse, The Collossus Crawls West,
Dear Multiples of Christ, A Cracking Coat Wear I
Dig That, Black Ghost Pie), the concept was realized:
Mag Earwhig, a 21-song epic rock fairy tale. Bob then
returned to the Monument Club to resume partying with his
the Bushes, Under the Stars
March 26, 1996
been a long three years since Dayton, Ohios Guided By
Voices were yanked out of obscurity by Scat Records. In that
time the band signed a massive contract with Matador Records
(strapping the label and forcing them to drop 37 bands), quit
their day jobs (schoolteacher, sandpaper factory worker, psychological
counselor; Tobin still paints), collected Britannica-sized
volumes of press, were proffered big-time management, recorded
with various big-name indie rock producers, got their songs
covered by Earths worst bands (dont ask who, itll
bum you out), contracted gout, headlined tours overseas and
in the Americas (the live in Rio bootleg, Millions Of Brazilians,
is testament to their Queen-sized hugeness), participated
in epic street battles, insulted Canadians, went through three
bass players (quit/fired, became a lawyer, quit/fired), reached
coveted backlash status, and got limited play on commercial
In November 1995, chief Robert Pollard, loving husband of
Kim and father of Brian (15) and Erica (12), handed in Guided
By Voices darkest and most obscure record to date. The
60-odd songs the band had recorded in 24-track studios had
all been scrapped. Pollard was adamant about releasing a home-taped
album "as is, no compromises, man," citing his dissatisfaction
with the hi-fi material.
Then he changed his mind and went into a 24-track studio along
with Fennell and Sprout and banged out the majority of songs
on Under The Bushes in two days. The results are Guided By
Voices clearest and most ecstatic album to date. "It
took a while to get comfortable recording outside of Tobes
house. Recording and playing live were always two separate
entities. We felt kind of uptight on some of the 24-track
stuff wed done before. We figured out a way to make
the two meet, which is to keep the formula of not overrehearsing.
But now we can go in and treat it like Tobes place."
Note how MVP Tobin Sprout, photo-realist painter, loving husband
of Laura and brand-new father of Hunter, steps out of his
Harrison/Entwistle role with four big songs ("To Remake
The Young Flyer," "Atom Eyes," "Its
Like...," "The Perfect Life"), his biggest
contribution to a GBV album so far.
At the end, about 35 songs from the earlier version of Under
The Bushes were cut; some were kept after much begging and
pleading by their friends.
Rock writers might want to bear in mind that GBV are talked
about more than heard. Their Cinderella story is a good one
but it is not a good reason to listen to them; all the inevitable
and annoying hype happens because their songs trigger synapses.
Enjoy the rock -- if a song is good, nobody can own it.
Guided By Voices is:
Robert Pollard (vocal)
Tobin Sprout (guitar)
Mitch Mitchell (guitar)
Kevin Fennell (drums)
Official Ironman Rally Song 7"/CD5
February 27, 1996
lead-off single from the upcoming 11th album by Daytons
Guided By Voices (Under the Bushes Under the Stars).
Since 1995s Alien Lanes Guided By Voices have
been touring America and Europe, quitting their day jobs,
drinking beer and writing songs... more and more songs.
Both formats include the title track and 3 bonus non-LP songs:
"Deaf Ears," "Why Did You Land?" and "June
Produced by Kim Deal, who sings backup on "June Salutes
You"; guitar lead by Trip Lampkin of the Grifters.
November 14, 1995
new single from Dayton, Ohios masterminds of the garage
hook and the middle-aged teen anthem features a new version
of "My Valuable Hunting Knife" replete with handclaps
and Casiotone effects, and a new version of "Game of Pricks"
from the same record. Also included are four brand-new songs:
"Mice Feel Nice (In My Room)," "Not Good For
The Mechanism," "Kiss Only The Important Ones"
and "Dodging Invisible Rays."
Motor Away b/w The Color of My Blade 7"
March 30, 1995
A-side of this single is "Motor Away," from Guided
By Voices eleventh album, Alien Lanes, in a new
unusual hi-fi 24-track version (not on the LP). The B-side,
"The Color of My Blade," is a non-LP song in ultra
lo-fi cassette-deck sound.
April 4, 1995
record, the eighth full-length LP from Americas finest
exponents of rocknroll songwriting and from-the-heartland
warmth, contains 28 songs. We like to call it GBVs White
Album . Genuine and insincere fans alike will recognize
classics like "Watch Me Jumpstart," "My Valuable
Hunting Knife" and "Motor Away." This extended
excavation of American childhood, memory and the niceties
of human contact tosses away the jaggeder edges of Bee
Thousand for an occasional documentary of the more distorted
margins of pop/rock history: the last songs on side 2 of early
Kinks albums, the song-structures of mid-period Wire and one-offs
by Deram bands from Colchester and Canterbury. In their transfer
from lo-fi to lo-mid-fi, Guided By Voices have scraped off
only a little piece of the browning acetate that covers their
conceptual picture sleeve.
Rock band from Northridge, Ohio.
Genesis post Anacrusis circa 1983 C.R.E.
(Common Rock Era)
Captain Bizarre pushes his amp down Needmore in the snow:
First publicly available recorded output:1986
First Scat LP, Vampire On Titus, 1992
Greg Demos buys his first pair of striped pants: 1993
First Matador LP:Alien Lanes, 1995
Recorded on 4 & 8-track devices in various basement and
living room locations throughout the Dayton, Ohio, metroplex.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING
"You wouldnt like it either if it wasnt worth
- Carol Pollard
"Terrible lyrics." - D. Wolk, College Medical
"For a musician, youre an asshole." - M. Montgomery
"You guys are great! Can I join your band if I write
lots of flattering stuff about you?"
- J. Greer, Spin
For more information on the infinite fractions of GBV, including
a rousing account of R. Pollards athletic triumphs (as
well as those of his brother, J. Pollard), please see the
Guiness Book of Guided By Voices Records, edited by
M. Sweeney and M. Ibold.