I’m pretty sure the first time I heard of Guided by Voices was by reading about them in SPIN, whose Senior Editor, Jim Greer, had just written a biography of R.E.M. I liked called Behind The Mask.
I don’t remember exactly what he wrote about GBV, I just remember there was a Jim Greer piece in SPIN that really made me want to hear them. Because that’s how we still discovered music in 1994: we found writers whose opinions we trusted, and triangulated their recommendations with our individual tastes.
But it just wasn’t Greer and SPIN. As a matter of fact, as the release of Bee Thousand became imminent, the advance buzz was so huge and overwhelming that in my review of the album for Kade Magazine, I wrote “at this point, it doesn’t even matter how good Bee Thousand actually is, cos there is now no question that Guided By Voices are going to be the next indie-rock superstars.”
That was a couple of months after I succumbed to the hype and bought it without having ever heard even a note of their of their music, and was instantly confronted with “Hardcore UFOs.”
Featuring a pair of spot-on 1990s guitars — one shimmering in the right speaker and one malfunctioning in the left speaker — a drummer that couldn’t even get going until halfway through the song, “Hardcore UFOs” could have turned me off of GBV right then and there.
Because, frankly, it’s a mess.
But it’s a beautiful, glorious mess, which starts with Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout (I think) harmonizing in the middle of the chaos.
Sitting out on your house
Watching hardcore ufos
Drawing pictures, playing solos til ten
Are you amplified to rock?
Are you hoping for a contact?
I’ll be with you, without you, again
Hell, even the vocals get fucked up near the third verse, like somebody accidentally hit “record” on the four-track without protecting the vocal track and immediately realizing what he did, and everybody else was too drunk to notice.
Between that and the lead guitar — “lead” guitar because it’s the rhythm guitar that’s mixed the highest — that drops in and out of the mix throughout the song, and GBV became an instant standard-bearer for a certain kind of rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic that has always been dear to my heart.
And it ain’t lo-fi: to me the lo-fi was more of a necessary result of the thing I instantly loved about Guided By Voices — the way Bee Thousand felt like it was a bunch of friends hanging out and making music for the sheer fun of it, even if they weren’t particularly good musicians.
And in June of 1994, when Bee Thousand was released, it felt like that kind of spirit was in short supply. I mean, sure, there was Pavement or Archers of Loaf, but you could tell that they were slumming, and even the most off-handed moments of their music felt somewhat conceptualized. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I loved their concepts, but it always felt like every note & beat — even the bum ones — was right where it was supposed to be.
No so with GBV. They weren’t good musicians playing raggedy music, they were raggedy musicians reaching further than they could possibly grasp. And it was thrilling.
Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page