The problem with writing a profile of Dayton, Ohio's prolific Guided By Voices is knowing exactly where to start. GbV isn't really a band at all, just one man, Bob Pollard, who every two or three years forms a collective of like-minded musicians to perform a panoply of his lo-fi (yet increasingly hi-fi) pop ramblings before ditching them all and starting over again. This recruit-then-ditch policy has resulted in some varied results, from 1992's lo-fi pomp-rock masterpiece Propellor to this year's very disappointing full-out rock assault Isolation Drills. Yet strangely the total is very much greater than the sum of its parts, and for every dodgy or half-dodgy GbV track there will be three or four mini-masterpieces. Pollard's work stands there with the greatest, despite the patchiness.

It all started around 1985 with the sub-REM juvenilia of Forever Since Breakfast (pictured). Pollard was bitterly disappointed with the results, most notably the production, to such an extent that he buried it - the songs have rarely been performed live and a CD reissue vetoed, and copies now exchange hands for hundreds of dollars. Deciding thereafter to home-record his output, Pollard proceeded to issue a series of scratchy LPs which were sold at occasional gigs and in and around Dayton, which started to display his talent for big rock songs with a tender (and quirky) heart. Fuelled, as ever, by the product of the mid-west's best breweries, the five albums later reissued by Scat Records as Box show that Pollard and his ever-rotating band of musicians maintained a solid grip on Who-influenced pop-rock with the odd toe dipped in the water of psychedelia.
Cover of Forever Since Breakfast

Cover of Propellor (well, one of them, anyway, and it's mine mine mine mine mine!)

It was around the time of Propellor in 1992 that Pollard was getting despondent. Locked into full-time primary teaching, his music was getting little recognition even within Dayton, and it seemed as if he was running up thousands of dollars of debt for little or no return. In desperation he decided to record all his best songs on one album, produce 500 copies, each with an individual cover, and quit music for good. Go out in a blaze of glory. So, 500 copies were duly produced (one of which is pictured left) and...people loved it. So much so that a major-ish indie label, Scat, became interested, and released their next album Vampire On Titus. Cannily, they realised what a gem they had too in Propellor, and released both albums on one CD to huge-ish acclaim. The band played their first gig in about six years in 1993 in New York, and that was that. GbV became a permanent fixture, rather than a hobby band.
And since then, there's been a constant flow of GbV material. Bee Thousand, released in 1994 on Matador Records, is perhaps the band's magnum opus, followed closely in the eyes of many by 95's Alien Lanes or, especially to the ears of this reviewer, the following year's Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. Lo-fi pop has never sounded so scratchy and under-rehearsed, yet buried within the layers of hiss, bum notes and fluffed chords are songs of stature that transcend their technical shortcomings to truly become must-listen items. This was a rich seam that GbV ploughed right up until 1997's Mag Earwhig, where Pollard ditched the line-up once more and teamed up with cock-rock band Cobra Verde and Gem guitarist Doug Gillard. Now the sound became more robust, less vulnerable, and the band went truly hi-fi. The album was therefore a little patchy in places, with a more macho element to the music in place.

1995's Alien Lanes

The 2000 line-up

Since then Do The Collapse and 2001's Isolation Drills have been released. DtC was a sparkly FM rock gem, while sadly Isolation Drills is a self-delusion in musical form. Pollard, surrounded by (sadly) unquestioning fans produced a flatulent album which, although lauded by many, and which has, in truth, started to age well, is still disappointing.

However, all is not lost. Pollard released his first solo album Not In My Airforce in 1996 and has issued several since, and each (with the possible exception of Waved Out) has carried the spirit of peak-period Guided By Voices, not least Kid Marine and Speak Kindly of your Volunteer Fire Department. Also worthy of note is the 4 CD box set Suitcase, packed full of unreleased Pollard works, each one a gem. The GbV discography is truly a daunting object, so for beginners I'd recommend Propellor, Bee Thousand or Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. And for more information, visit

Alex Apple aka Mavis Trickle

for GbV concert photos, click here for page one
and click here for page two
and here for page three