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“It’s All Good”: An Appreciation of Guided By Voices

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I appropriate, with my quotation marks, the title of Bob Dylan’s brilliant song in which he skewers the everyday, unthinking use of that (obviously generally untrue) claim – “it’s all good.”  But in the way I’m using it, the claim is true.  When it comes to the twenty-year career of Dayton, Ohio’s Guided By Voices, it really is all good.

Former elementary-school teacher Robert Pollard clearly had a calling other than education.  To date, he has written more than one thousand six hundred songs – pause for a moment to contemplate that number – and, damn it, every one of those that I have heard is worthwhile, and most of them range from pretty good to how-the-hell-does-he-DO-it good.  At his best, Pollard writes truly great pop songs, and you know I don’t use the word “great” lightly.  They are great musically (it’s a rare Pollard song that doesn’t have a memorable melodic hook somewhere in it) and, often enough, lyrically – even when (as is often the case) you can’t figure out what the hell the lyrics mean.

Examples, Please

Pollard’s songs tend to be short – many are less than two minutes long – but that makes them all the more remarkable (you know, that he can do so much in so little time).  Let me name a few favourites for those who don’t know Guided By Voices.  “I Am a Scientist,” “Game of Pricks,” “Kicker of Elves,” “Tractor Rape Chain,” “Doughnut for a Snowman,” “Smothered in Hugs” – okay, start there.  You will find the production deliberately (and, I’ll admit, sometimes irritatingly) low-fi, the singing genuinely lovely (Pollard has a frail but beautiful voice), the playing (especially by the classic GBV lineup of Pollard, guitarist [and also excellent songwriter] Tobin Sprout, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennel) exactly what is required, and the songs more or less heavenly.

But Wait – There’s More

I’m a fan, but I haven’t yet accumulated all nineteen GBV albums.  But when I do, I am comforted, as you ought to be, by knowing that Pollard’s prodigious output wasn’t confined to Guided By Voices.  He has released almost innumerable recordings under various side-project names, on which he worked with various other musicians (often GBV members) – projects with names like Acid Ranch, Circus Devils, Howling Wolf Orchestra, Lexo and the Leapers.  That, in addition to more than twenty solo albums under his own name! This man cannot be confined, cannot be held back.  Where do the songs come from?  I don’t believe in “channeling,” but if I ever do come to believe in it, I will adduce Pollard’s work as proof.  If you don’t know GBV, start by looking up those songs I noted earlier or by getting, say, 1994’s Bee Thousand or 1996’s Under the Bushes Under the Stars.   Then check out this year’s English Little League and watch for – I imagine, since Pollard’s only fifty-six years old – dozens and dozens more albums and hundreds more songs from this brilliant musician.

GW

Please visit Robert Pollard/GBV’s official site: http://www.gbv.com/index.php