November 20, 2003

Guided By Voices: The Voices in my Head

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A best of Guided By Voices album might seem slightly redundant when each of their records contains so many classic tracks. Yet if one were to take the catchiest of catchy lo-fi indie rock, you might just end up with a thirty-two track, seventy-seven minute “best of” album. Hence, The Best of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. The compilation provides not only a journey through one of the most prolific careers in the history of rock but also a gaze into the imaginative genius that is Robert Pollard, the center of GBV.

Some browsing of www.gbvdb.com reveals that over the twenty years of Bob Pollard’s career he has written over 800 songs. With that kind of exceptionally high output, you would hope the band’s top thirty-two songs would be something special: that’s exactly what they are. Each dripping with the nostalgic fuzz of rough-cut, hissy recording, these songs are timeless GBV artifacts. Though GBV’s albums span from the late ’80s to 2003 and the group lineup has changed so drastically over the years, the songs retain their infectiously simple blend of pop rock. Never complicating their formula of sing-along melodies, clanging guitar, and uncomplicated rock beats, GBV stuck to their guns and delivered hit after hit.

Human Amusement at Hourly Rates draws from nearly each one of their albums, including Propeller, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Mad Earwhig!, and Isolation Drills. With all of these albums juxtaposed in one compilation, Human Amusements allows for an easy survey of Pollard’s poetical musings on the everyday or the fantastical. As Pollard beckons the listener on the opening track of the album, Alien Lane’s “Salty Salute,” “Ah-come on-come on, the club is open,” we enter the world of an artist, a drunkard, and a dreamer — a man voracious in all pursuits. In “I Will Keep,”(Do the Collapse) where Bob, a former elementary school teacher, instructs us in the beauty of simplicity, as his voice provides the perfect counterpart for an, effusive guitar line. Then in the ballad “Drinker’s Peace,” Pollard serves up an ode to his drug of choice — I’ve seen him drink 8 bottles of Bud on stage, throwing each in the air, not necessarily catching them as they fall, right before cracking them open and chugging foam. Just to give a better idea of the track list, some of best of the best tracks include “I am a Tree,” “Everywhere with Helicopters,” “Echos Myron,” “Glad Girls,” “Teenage FBI,” and “I am a Scientist.” The list could go on and on.

Over the years, Bob Pollard has taught me a lot. One, you can be an alcoholic and a smoker and make it past the age of 40. Two, you can be an elementary school teacher and a rock star. Three, large coolers of beer are our friends. Four, there is something incredibly bad-ass about raising a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other and singing your guts out, while doing absurd rock posturing and kicks. Five, stick to what you do well and do it as much as possible.

Honestly, there are many more lessons to take away from GBV. There is one line in particular that strikes at the essence of the band. A final thought from Bob: “Speed up, slow down, go all around in the end” (“Tractor Rape Chain”).


Archived article by Andrew Gilman

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